The Challenge of Change

Japan's Defense Policy in the New Suga Administration

These are remarkable times. The confluence of events, including the resignation of Prime Minister Abe, whirlwinds in the Indo-Pacific, an intransigent Russia and an emboldened China, the North Korea threat and uncertainly with South Korea, electoral and civil strife in America, devasting health and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan has fared well for the most part. The transition to a new government of Yoshide Suga was swift and transparent, a tribute Japan’s democratic institutions. Abe’s policies are expected to be reinforced by the new cabinet in which 15 of the 20 members remain the same.

An exception is in the Ministry of Defense, now headed by Shinzo Abe’s brother Nobuo Kishi. Within days of his inauguration a record defense budget increase of 8.3% was requested in the draft budget for the coming year, the highest increase in two decades. A revised national security strategy already underway has taken on new urgency.

There are many significant issues to contend with. Among them are maintaining force structure and strength during the pandemic; budget considerations for equipment maintenance and new weapons systems; investment in research and development; sustaining infrastructure and adequate manpower; interoperability between SDF services at sea, on land, air and space; and missile defense options in the post Aegis Ashore era.

Japan’s next generation F-X fighter aircraft is key to the defense industrial base, and upcoming negotiations with the US on host nation support are critical. Also in play are the status and expansion of foreign defense agreements, i.e. Australia, ASEAN and NATO countries, and export controls that restrict trade, and finally, the lack of a security clearance system in Japan to ease cooperation with foreign partners.

The question is how the Suga administration can manage these challenges and which defense priorities and policies to embrace.

Brought to you by BAE Systems.

October 7, 2020

Washington 08:00
London 13:00
Paris 14:00
New Delhi 17:30
Tokyo 21:00
Canberra 23:00
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