Sunday, September 19, 2004

Defense subsidies to Japan

I was going to do up a comprehensive article on U.S. defense subsidies to Japan, but I've determined that in order to give this topic the treatment it deserves, it would require a post that would close in on book length, and probably require some research travel. Instead, I'll just make the following points:

1) Japan spends only about one percent of their GDP on defense, the lowest of anyone we consider a strategic partner:

Percent of defense spending by GDP.

This is somewhat deceptive though. Since Japan's economy is large (second only to the U.S.), this one percent turns out to be a rather large number, making Japan second to only the U.S. in terms of dollars spent. It's worth noting that about 10 percent of Japan's defense budget gets signed over to the U.S. to help finance American defense of Japan.

I figured it would be easy for Japan to spend up to get a 'real' military (nowhere to go but up!), but they're excellent budget site gives the definite impression that America's defense subsidies to Japan help keep their social security system afloat:

Japan budget graph

As you can see, defense spending eats up six percent of Japan's budget. Even a somewhat modest two percent of GDP is out of the question since that would entail using up 12 percent of the budget, and there's no room there for that kind of increase.

2) In the coming years, Japan may face several threats, some of which aren't even of their own making. For instance, if the U.S. was to use it's military to protect Taiwan's sovereignty, would China attack American bases in Japan? Other threats include, to varying degrees, North Korea and Russia. Will Japan have a military capable of fending off such threats? They may have sufficient resources for defense, but to offer a true deterrent, offensive capabilities are needed. Even if there was public support to build up such capabilities (which there isn't), many would scoff at the domestic programs that would have to take serious cuts to make it happen.

3) Complicating factors is the fact that a Japanese defense build up will be seen throughout the region as a destabilizing force. Unfortunately, when push comes to shove, Japan is America's only real alley in the region. It's doubtful that South Korea would let the U.S. use it's South Korean based troops should America have to beat back some sort of aggression upon Japan from North Korea; but there's no doubt that Japan would allow it's territory to be used to protect South Korea from similar aggression. In looking over a variety of scenarios, it seems that when anything comes up in that region of the planet, there are only two solid players for peace and democracy, Japan and the U.S.

( as a note, I make further points along these lines in this article.)

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