Navigating Japan’s Security Shift: Budget Surge, Public Sentiment, and Regional Dynamics

Andrew L. Oros is a Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. His latest research project, initiated as a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, examines how demographic changes – such as shrinking populations, aging societies, and gender imbalances – have and will affect the security environment in the Indo-Pacific region and, in particular, the network of US alliances and partnerships in the region. He conducted research for his last book, Japan’s Security Renaissance (Columbia University Press, 2017), as an invited research fellow at Japan’s National Institute of Defense Studies and as a Japan Foundation Abe fellow at Keio University in Tokyo and Peking University in Beijing. He also is the author of two other books and numerous articles and book chapters on issues related to East Asian security and Japanese politics. He serves as an executive editor of the scholarly journal Asian Security, is a member of the US-Japan Network for the Future (Japan/Mansfield Foundations), and is part of the Mansfield-Luce Asia Scholars Network. He earned his Ph.D in political science at Columbia University, an M.Sc from the London School of Economics as a British government Marshall scholar, and a B.A. from the University of Southern California. His hometown is Claremont, California!
Athena Ke '26 interviewed Dr. Andrew L. Oros on December 8, 2023.
Photograph and biography courtesy of Dr. Andrew L. Oros.

What are the key challenges influencing recent developments in Japan's security policy, and what are the driving factors behind these changes?

A foundational perspective for understanding recent shifts in Japanese security policy is the updated national security strategy unveiled in December 2022. Marking the first update in a decade, this revision primarily responds to heightened concerns about China and North Korea. The overarching goal is to strengthen Japan's security alliance with the U.S. while fostering additional security partnerships with other nations. A pivotal change within this strategy is the significant boost in Japanese defense spending. Though often misreported, the intention is not to double but to increase defense spending by approximately 65% over a five-year period. This substantial increase positions Japan among the world's top military spenders and facilitates the acquisition of additional weaponry, addressing demographic challenges, and investing in military personnel recruitment.

One of the changes that has received a lot of attention is Tokyo’s announcement that it will increase its defense budget from 5.4 trillion yen in 2022 to 8.9 trillion yen in 2027. How will this increase affect Japan’s military capabilities?

Certainly, it's crucial to recognize that a portion of the increased budget serves to counteract the effects of inflation, with some funds allocated to address rising labor costs and other expenses. While not directly translating to a 65% expansion in defense capabilities, this financial injection will undeniably enhance Japan's military capacities in various dimensions.

How broad is the public support for Japan’s shift on its security posture, in particular its plans to increase defense spending significantly?

Surprisingly, there hasn't been a substantial public backlash against the increase in defense spending. Unlike previous instances that generated public concern, there have been no notable protests or demonstrations. This suggests a perceptible shift in public attitudes, aligning with the changing view on the necessity of a robust defense posture. However, it's noteworthy that public support diminishes when linked to potential tax increases. There is reluctance among the Japanese population to endorse higher taxes to fund increased defense spending. This reluctance poses a challenge, considering Japan's existing budget deficit. Additionally, the current Prime Minister's low support rates may indirectly influence public sentiment on defense policy.

The US obviously welcomes these changes in Japanese security policy.  How do you assess the reception of these shifts in East Asian countries?

Japan faces skepticism from its close neighbors, particularly China and North Korea, as expected adversaries. South Korea, while witnessing a historic shift in relations with Japan, still harbors reservations about Japan's defense developments. However, beyond immediate neighbors, there is notable interest and encouragement from Southeast Asian and Indo-Pacific countries. Countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Australia are keen on Japan playing a larger role in regional security. This aligns with Japan's strategic goal of deepening regional security partnerships.

Given Japan's severe demographic, economic, and fiscal headwinds, how does the government plan to ensure the sustainability of the defense budget increase? What strategies are in place to overcome potential challenges in the long run?

Japan's demographic challenges, particularly a shrinking population, do not necessarily equate to a shrinking economy, thanks to advancements in technology and optimizing the existing workforce. While there may be increased demand on healthcare and retirement benefits, economic forecasts suggest that sustaining a 2% GDP spending on defense is plausible into the 2030s. However, the challenge lies in the political support for such spending. The fiscal situation and potential conflicts in budget priorities, such as promoting the birth rate or elder care services, may impact the long-term sustainability of defense spending.

Thank you for providing a comprehensive perspective. Finally, to enhance our readers' understanding of the current situation in Japan, do you have any additional comments or insights?

An area of interest in Japan's security policy evolution is the notable progress in increasing the inclusion of women in the Self Defense Forces. Recent efforts have seen up to 25% of new recruits being women, indicating positive strides. However, the challenge now is to ensure an inclusive and welcoming environment for these women within the forces, as recent scandals have highlighted areas that need improvement. Monitoring the success of these initiatives in the coming years will be worthwhile for readers.

Athena Ke '26Student Journalist

49th Infantry Regiment, Central Army, Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces, CC BY 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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