Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

To What Extent Has the War in Ukraine Awakened Japanese Awareness of National Defense?
KAWATO Akio / Former Ambassador to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Newsweek Japan Columnist

March 6, 2024
On February 19, the Japan-Ukraine Conference for Promotion of Economic Growth and Reconstruction was held in Tokyo. The Ukrainian Prime Minister Shmyhal visited Japan to attend the conference. Japanese Prime Minister Kishida also attended the conference and held a joint press conference with Prime Minister Shmyhal. Since Japan does not provide weapons assistance to foreign countries as a matter of national policy, the conference focused on cooperation in the reconstruction of Ukraine, with the participation of the representatives of the relevant government agencies of Ukraine and Japan, and more than 50 companies from each side. 56 statements of intent for cooperation were agreed upon. The Japanese government pledged ¥15.8 billion in grant assistance in the areas of mine removal and the reconstruction of power, energy, and transportation.
This action by Japan, which is situated far from Ukraine and normally seen to take an irresolute position on security issues, has been met with surprise in the Western media. However, the war in Ukraine has evoked a great deal of sympathy and interest among the Japanese public since the beginning of the war, and television coverage and commentary have continued day after day. Why?

The reason is that the war in Ukraine has overturned the sense of security that the Japanese people had felt after their disastrous defeat in World War II, which led them to renounce war and rely heavily on the United States for their national security.
They made the rude discovery that war is not limited to developing countries. Even civilized countries professing that they will not go to war can be attacked by other civilized countries such as Russia, which was the original member of the UN and is a permanent member of the Security Council.
This discovery has shaken Japanese pacifism from its very foundations. There are still many who find it hard to believe.

This prompted a major step forward in Japan's defense policy. For some time now, the Self-Defense Forces have been increasing their equipment with the threat from China and North Korea in mind, and Japan is now about to have two light aircraft carriers. It now has 10 Aegis destroyers and is about to significantly increase its fleet of high-performance conventional submarines from the current 17. This would greatly exceed, for example, Russia's maritime forces in the Far East.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force has opened a base in Djibouti, Africa, and has already developed long-range transport aircraft on its own. It has already ordered Norwegian-made medium-range missiles to be mounted on F35 fighter planes, and in January it signed a contract to purchase up to 400 Tomahawk medium-range cruise missiles from the United States. These have a range of about 1,600 kilometers. In 2022, it updated its defense force development plan to include enhanced drones, electromagnetic waves, and laser weapons. It has launched the goal of significantly increasing defense spending to a total of 43 trillion yen over five years starting in FY2023. This will increase Japan's defense spending to 2% of GDP in FY2027, up from less than 1% of GDP so far.

The Japanese government has been providing a rather large amount of financial support to Ukraine for some time. This includes $600 million in bilateral financial assistance, a $500 million grant through the World Bank, and a $5 billion financial assistance loan also through the World Bank. In addition, Japan has accepted about 2,000 displaced persons from Ukraine, paying a part of their living expenses.

The Japanese government has not provided Ukraine with weapons but has supplied mine detection equipment, bulletproof vests, cold-weather clothing, and trucks for transportation.

Furthermore, the Japanese government has imposed full-fledged sanctions against Russia, including a freeze on Russian public and private funds in Japan (estimated to be more than $10 billion), an expanded and strengthened ban on the export of advanced technology, and a ban on the import of gold and some lumber.

By doing this, Japan is trying to create an environment in which it can gain support from Western nations if China or other countries should take actions that threaten Japan's security.

In the past, the opposition parties, which relied on pacifist public opinion for their votes, would have voiced loud opposition to the above defense buildup. However, the opposition parties, perhaps seeing that public awareness has changed, are not resisting. For the government's defense officials, who have been swamped by work to deal with the recalcitrant oppositions, this is a sea change that they could hardly have wished for.
However, good luck is often accompanied by mishaps. The youth have become reluctant to join the SDF, and in FY2023, less than half of the recruiting plan (Japan does not have a compulsory conscription system) has been accomplished. This is because the youth population is declining and companies are raising wages to recruit employees amid the economic recovery after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Added to this was the shock of the war in Ukraine. The brutal combat scenes reported daily must have made the young men aware of the reality of war and military service. Older pundits who call on them to "have the guts to defend their own country" end up dispirited when they are told on social media, "If you want to defend your country so badly, you should go there yourself.”

Regarding the war in Ukraine, Japan will keep standing by with the US and European NATO countries. But it will never be a military power like it was before the war, and it does not have enough soldiers. 

KAWATO Akio is a former ambassador to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and a Newsweek Japan columnist.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

河東 哲夫 / 元駐ウズベキスタン・タジキスタン大使、ニューズウィーク日本版コラムニスト

2024年 3月 6日





ウクライナに対して日本政府は以前から、かなり多額の財政支援をしている。それは6億ドルの二国間財政支援、世銀を通ずる5億ドルの無償資金供与、同じく世銀を通ずる50億ドルの財政支援融資などである 。そして約2000名の避難民をウクライナから臨時に受け入れて、生活費も一部支給している。







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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > To What Extent Has the War in Ukraine Awakened Japanese Awareness of National Defense?