Japan drops Cold War defence to face new threats

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By Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO, Dec 17 (BestGrowthStock) – Japan unveiled a sweeping update of
its national defence polices on Friday, prescribing a more
flexible posture and refocusing its capabilities as it confronts
China’s military buildup and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The National Defence Programme Guideline approved by Prime
Minister Naoto Kan’s cabinet stopped short of easing a ban on
arms exports — a move opposed by a small pacifist party whose
help Kan wants to pass bills in a divided parliament. But it left
the door open to international joint development in the future.

Under the programme, Japan will allocate 23.49 trillion yen
($280 billion) for defence spending for the five years from next
April, down 3 percent from a five-year spending cap to March 2010
due to constraints of a public debt twice the size of GDP.

The plan will bolster Japan’s defence posture to its
southwest, where it shares a maritime border with China, by
boosting the number of combat aircraft on the southern island of
Okinawa and stationing troops on smaller islands.

The policy update is the first major revision in six years
and the first under Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Democratic Party,
which swept to power last year for the first time.

Japan’s military, which is bigger than Britain’s, has for
years been pushing the limits of a post-World War Two pacifist
constitution. But any signs Tokyo is further flexing its military
muscle could upset Asian neighbours including China, where bitter
memories of Japan’s wartime aggression run deep.

Reflecting anxiety about its giant neighbour, the report
pointed to China’s rising military spending, rapid modernisation
of its armed forces and growing maritime activities.

“These movements, coupled with the lack of transparency in
its military and security matters, have become a matter of
concern for the region and the international community,” it said.

The document also dubbed North Korea’s nuclear and missile
programmes “a present and grave destabilising factor to the
security of our country and the region”.

Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply after September,
when Japan detained a Chinese skipper whose trawler collided with
Japanese patrol boats near a chain of disputed islands in the
East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

The defence guideline also urged efforts to build better
two-way ties while encouraging Beijing to act as a responsible
member of international society.

SHIFTING RESOURCES

In a bid to boost overall Japanese defence capability despite
budget constraints, the plan will shift resources from the army
to the air force and navy.

Japan’s defence capability has traditionally been focused on
the north in the form of a large fleet of tanks, a legacy of the
Cold War era, when they were deployed to respond to potential
threats from the former Soviet Union.

Under the new guideline, which covers the next 10 years, the
number of tanks will be cut by a third to 400 and the official
head count of the army will be cut by 1,000 to 154,000, although
the actual headcount is already lower than the official figure.

In contrast, Japan plans to raise the number of submarines to
22 from 16 by commissioning new vessels and keeping existing ones
operational longer, while boosting the number of warships fitted
with the Aegis ballistic missile defence system to six from four.

A study will be conducted to address the issue of a
decades-old ban on weapons exports. “It is becoming a mainstream
among developed countries to boost the capability of defence
equipment and cut costs by taking part in international joint
development and production,” the guideline said.

“We will consider measures to respond to this major trend.”

The self-imposed prohibition is an almost blanket ban on arms
exports and on the development and production of weapons with
countries other than the United States, making it difficult for
defence contractors such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (7011.T: )
to reduce costs and keep up with cutting-edge arms technologies.

Besides the strategic shift in military resources, Japan also
aims to boost its defence capability through closer ties with key
security ally Washington while seeking to fortify cooperation
with regional partners such as South Korea, Australia, India and
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“The Japan-U.S. alliance will remain indispensable to secure
the peace and safety of our country,” it said.

The document added, though, that it was necessary to reduce
the burden on communities hosting U.S. forces, whose residents
often associate the bases with accidents, crime and pollution.

U.S.-Japan ties frayed after the Democrats took office last
year and then-prime minister Yukio Hatoyama sought to keep a
pledge to move a U.S. Marines airbase off Okinawa, host to about
half of the nearly 50,000 U.S. forces in Japan.

Japan and the United States agreed in May to stick to a 2006
deal to move the base to a less populous area on the island, but
the plan is facing stiff opposition from local residents.
(Editing by Linda Sieg and Michael Watson)

Japan drops Cold War defence to face new threats