Japan and its 'military' spending - an example

I've read -yet again- how someone complained that Japan has a 1% GDP defence spending and the U.S. has a 5% defence spending yet the Japanese still fear the U.S. might not be able to defend them if cuts occured in DoD budget.

It doesn't matter where I read it, as this kind of thought could probably be found hundreds of times with an internet search engine and the same attitude more generally would certainly be found ten thousands of times.

Let's ignore whether the Japanese defence spending is really 1% (official figures say so), whether the U.S. military (hardly "defense") spending is really 5% (about right +/- 1 % point depending on how you define it) and whether any Japanese really has such a worry at all.

Let's instead look at the scenario of a rise in Japanese spending from 1% to much more, even if less than 5%. In fact, let's focus on non-economical effects for now.

Japan has "Self defense forces" with a small budget and inefficient arms production rates. It may be a hollow force or not (there were Cold War rumours about ridiculously low ammunition stocks), but it still has a top ten air force and a top ten navy. Their relative neglect of the army is understandable, given Japanese geography and the army's striking uselessness against Godzilla.

 (I didn't check the entire videos for accuracy; consider them entertainment.)
Warning: Atrocious music.

What would Japan look like to foreigners with a bigger budget for arms and troops?
Let's say quadrupled to UK-like 4% (The UK fits as an analogy because of its geography):

Even the pretence of a "Self Defence" character of the armed forces would disappear instantly. All that additional money would hardly go into stocks, better pay, better barracks and modernisation of existing units or the army in general. Most of it would no doubt be spent on additional warships, combat aircraft (or development projects for the same).
This would in turn be a threat to other countries in the region, especially South Korea and mainland China. Even the Taiwanese might be irritated.

Keep in mind that an additional 3% GDP on military affairs and military strength gain would no doubt look ugly to regional foreigners in conjunction with the still-widespread and rather disrespectful Japanese brand of nationalism.

The consequence would be a diversion of South Korean national security efforts away from continental threats, likely a lot of irritation and disunity among the U.S.'s friends in the region and China would almost certainly force the pace of the regional arms build-up.

How exactly would this benefit the U.S.?

You got to assume U.S. leadership will be stupid enough to let the hyped-up rivalry turn into actual war (not the "war" Americans talk so often about; "War on drugs", "War on Christmas", "War on women", "War on terrorism" - ACTUAL WAR) to see any benefit in substantially greater Japanese "self defence" spending.



  1. For your amusement: http://youtu.be/t7_lLtopNvQ

  2. Sven, you make a mistake. It's not the military budget that is at fault, but the Japanese attitude.

    Japan could also stabilize the region with a budget increase if they commit to naval and air cooperation with South Korea and flotilla, army and air cooperation with Taiwan. That would require Japan to import good military hardware from these countries and carry out investments into mutual developments of military hardware.

    China would have even more of a problem with the island chain idea and power projections far from shore except in the South China Sea. They will continue their military build up and rather have to divert resources from blue water aspirations to the great joy of Uncle Sam.
    North Korea is a dead man walking unless they can create something like the Chinese economic transformation.
    Vietnam would like to join the club of Japan with an urgent requirement to mine, listen and submarinize the South China waters.
    The Philipines are not much different from Vietnam, but prefer a surface approach that can show the flag.

    Let's look at the attitude.
    In the Philipines, there were and are friendly elites to the Japanese ideas and influence, plus a local old Japanese colony. The assimilation by Japanization did meet resistance in places with much pride of own history and traditions that felt threatened and not enriched. It's the core of a feeling of cultural supremacy that puts these divisions among these nations.
    Chinese culture is at the center, because it has always been the major influence in the region, with many Chinese immigrants shaping the surrounding nations. These nations do have their own attitudes towards China in degrees of traditional friendliness.
    Another major impact were the pirates and Japan has a history of centuries in this business, as well as supplying mercenaries for the European colonials. WWII is rather a continuation of the Japanese aspirations as the second most important nation to shape things via their military capability and it's a replay of some of the ideas of the much earlier Imjin War. In the context of continuous giant Chinese influence, Japan wants to maximise their own clout. As usual, it backfired as soon as the Japanese left their island and did no longer feel as constrained as at home.
    All in all, I'm not sure the Japanese will forever be unable to reach common ground with Taiwan, that still has major Japanese influence and would be among the first, together with the Philipines to have military cooperation.
    Vietnam defeated according to their own point of view three major powers within a few decades time, so they are the least officially afraid of anyone. That makes them likely to resume their old position as a Japan friendly nation that maintains independence from China meddling in her affairs.
    South Korea is the crucial hinge that can have a major backlash against Japanese might. North Korea aiming missiles to go down in Japanese waters is just one of many hints that all is not well between Japan and Korea despite Japan being settled by former Koreans. These two do require the US or India (in the future) as broker of any common agreement, while China has a major interest in their disagreements.

    Japan could manage more and better agreements with the other RIM nations via a compromise that acknowledges war crimes of their army, while clinging to the glory of their navy.

    1. Such a turn towards cooperation-mindedness happened in Germany twice; with social democrats during the Inter-War years (failed) and conservatives under Adenauer in the early Cold War (NATO and EC integration).
      I don't see anything monumental enough to push the Japanese into pivoting to such an approach.

      I'm no expert on Japan, but my take is that some ugly attitudes would resurface once they drop their relative isolationism.
      Some different nation living on the Japanese Islands might do something else, but Japanese being Japanese, I've got my rather firm expectations about what would resurface if they multiplied their military spending.

      They didn't bend on some issues while being militarily modest. Why should they accept the pain of bending once they become militarily powerful?

  3. @Kurt Scholz:

    I dont think, Sven made a mistake at all, he made a point about the observation, that Americans complain frequently about other nations "freeriding" on its military budget.

    Even Stephen Walt, normally an outspoken critic of American warmongering and self-described political realist, recently channeled his inner idiot in complaining about Japan free-riding on American military capabilities (and mentioned the 1%-issue).

    I find these views bewildering myself because:
    A) they tie military spending to an arbitrary figure they dictate as "appropriate", suggesting to me, that the political view of military capabilities in the West truly drops to the level of elementary school-thinking.

    B) its akin to missing the wood for the trees in ignoring ramifications of a countries (in this case Japans) changing stance on military capabilities for domestic and foreign relations, even though these two points arguably are fundamental basics of social interactions, whereas military force is a consequence and outgrowth, that cannot be disconnected and changed at will because of some weird notions about burden-sharing.

    C) the US must be the first empire (ahem, hegemonial power) in history, that accuses its satellites/client states/whatever of not having the decency to ensure continued existence of their hegemony.
    And yes, I am aware of mutual benefits etc., thats how these things worked for 50-odd years, when there was someone around, who was perceived as a common adversary, but that time has passed and the gist is that the US are now acting like a spoiled child that is losing its toys and is having a fit about it. Its even understandable, why some reactionaries in the US would like to paint China as the new Soviets, reestablishing Washington as "champion of democracy", but of course China is not the USSR and Asian nations (and pretty much everyone else) wont treat them like that.

    As far as Japan is concerned, I guess they will have to accommodate China (and to a lesser degree South Korea) in some way (ie. by changing course on some political views they have held dear for far too long). The alternative would be really ugly for everybody in East Asia, but perhaps most so for Japan itself.

  4. The freerider argument is not dead wrong from a US point of view, but incomprehensible from other points of view.

    The US has outstanding abilities to influence things on water and all her allies profit from this. They were quite content with having green water navy and ground force allies, while building a blue water navy and air force. Japan for decades was more than enough as a roadblock to Soviet and Chinese Pacific aspirations.
    Now the necessities for these green water navies and ground forces have changed and everyone enjoys a peace dividend, except the USA that has taken on a more Athenian attitude by turning a defensive naval alliance against a threatening major power into a tool of offense that tries to secure strategic positions.
    The US is not wrong with that approach, China will rise and a US control of oil and sea lines of communication will put China in a very difficult position should they consider violence to change the established order, they don't quite agree with.
    It's just that the allies of old miss that point, because they don't see China as a threat to their non-existing hegemony, but another bighead you have to get along. In international politics, there's little difference between having issues with the US or the PRC. so the US does miss support for her hegemony that they perceive is the order they created with their allies, while the allies see it as the order the US created with them. The result is a slight difference of interest in keeping this order. So the US sees anyone as a freerider who is not commited to help to keep that order and Japan, Germany and the like are reluctant to pay for something they don't fully appreciate.
    France, the UK or South Korea are more "supportive" because their spending serves their own ends.

    That being said, I'm sure Japan can create a more positive clout and they can commit to better cooperation with increased military presence and capability. For better power politics and influence, they have to let go of some things. Japan is not just the big war criminal, they still do have a supportive clout within the multiple layers of East Asia's cultures, history and politics. With conflict escalation about the few semi-dry rocks in East Asia, I count on surprising alliance developments. Japan has always been the militarized pirate islands that put Chinese sea control to a test and someday in the future they will be again.

    1. Thanks for your reply.

      I think, you raise a fair few interesting points and I do not fundamentally disagree with you about most of them, except perhaps the view Americans have of themselves in relation to others on the world stage and their vis-a-vis towards China.

      I am not sure, "they" (administrations and relevant political forces) really see it as "We and our allies have build something, now they dodge their obligations". I just do not see any evidence for that view outside of diplomatic courtesy talk. Unless they are all schizophrenic and believe both of the opposing views they are selling at home and abroad. Time and again politicians including presidents are clamoring on about American exceptionalism (this has been a popular topic recently, but it goes way back with Republicans and amongst Democrats Clinton was extremely vocal about it at a time, when America started to be "lost in the woods", ie. being the first president of the post-Cold War-era).

      I also noticed how Americans in particular seem obsessed with the Chinese using violence to "change the existing order"...(its interesting, because it confirms Hegemonial theory postulating, that empires in decline tend to view military assets, both their own and their adversaries as primary solution to all problems, similar to the old proverb about hammer and nail. The US track record over the past 20 years certainly isnt good here, same for the "war on everything"-theme etc).
      I think, this might in fact form the greatest weakness of the US as a hegemon in historical context, for two reasons.

      First, they perceive a high potential of violence and will try to prepare against it (a natural thing in itself, but unhealthy when crossing certain thresholds). Military procurement in the US over the last two decades has a track record going from bad to worse, dito expenditures for military operations abroad. I would not be surprised, if future historians, in trying to point out reasons for the end of American hegemony, will highlight the vast treasures spent on no return, resources, that were instead much needed to fix an increasingly dysfunctional domestic social and economical apparatus (infrastructure is most definitely in decline in the US) in order to constitute a healthy base for future development.

      End part one due to word-limit.

    2. Part two:

      Second, it seems to me, that it is in fact in China's best interest not to seek military conflict, if they are interested in displacing the US in some form. Of course, whats common sense is not necessarily, what people in charge will see as such (see 1914 or many events in the preceding years), so I can only hope, this trend is as obvious to them as it is to anyone conducting statistical research. By any statistic measure China will significantly outpace the US and replace it, not as a leader of anything, but certainly as, say, a center of gravity by default (cynically one might call it a black hole) towards which others align themselves out of necessity (the likening of China's rise to that of Japan during the 1980s, as proposed by some voices, is fairly ludicrous to me, it lacks any sense of proportion). The "established order" is actually a system in flux and tilting more and more towards the Chinese, unless of course an unforeseen major disruption, such as domestic upheaval, much desired in some circles in DC and elsewhere takes place. A more likely problem may be the conduct of Chinese foreign relations in their immediate vicinity.

      I think or hope, that the situation for instance in the South China Sea will make it clear for Chinese leaders, that military confrontations will not at all serve their interest and instead are likely to induce a counter-momentum, that can significantly obstruct and deflect Chinese ambitions.
      But consequently I do not view the US or any of their strong points (sea control, a controversial point in itself, even though many Americans might not see it that way) as impeding issue, but rather the fact, that China is and will always be surrounded by a host of cultures, that are more than capable of throwing the proverbial monkey wrench in the works.

      Japan is one of those. Still, I think, you underestimate the antagonism towards Japan in many quarters of East Asia and conflict about those rocks is one of the illustrating examples. The Koreans naming their LHA "Dokdo" illustrates that point. Resentment towards Japan is significant both in Korea and China. Tokyo is definitely not the pretty girl many of the locals want to dance with. India might have better chances to create counterbalancing influence, they seem to get along well with Vietnam these days, potentially Indonesia too.

  5. I agree with para, especially on point C. I can't remember how many times I've heard or read comments from Americans about how they saved everyone else in WWII and pretty much won it singlehandedly. That too is connected to this idea that every other ally (or perhaps vassal state is a more accurate term) had better fuel the American defence industry, an industry that actually makes up a large part of the economy.

    There is also this notion in America, and therefore in the rest of NATO, that money spent = capability. That technology is somehow the deciding factor, and will guarantee victory.

    And foreign wars against incompetent adversaries is used to back this up. Wrongly, in my opinion.

    1. The whole US MIC restarted to circle alone in the Cold War arms race searching for something to chase. This has been increasing profits and nepotism and will continue if well managed. Same goes for politics of regime alignment, a continuation of Cold War politics.
      China does count themselves an adversary in this US-dominated order, but they sit by the river and wait for the corpse of their enemy. The US is in a self-destructive vicious circle. Part of this vicious circle is a mix of military pseudo-innovation and traditionalism. Request for allied participation is about elimination of capability for dissent.

      The USA is in a transformative phase with much self-deception after they lost the original reason for the joint Anglo-Saxon maritime alliance. And you have to take their mindset into account:
      "They are the sheriff doing it for the good of the community with deputies joining as required. Anyone, who is reluctant to ever participate, is freeriding on the law and order provided by the sheriff."
      Hard to argue with that, when you have their version of history.

      I'm divided on judging this mess, I appreciate a better access to strategic current and future resources. It's normal power politics and can help to avoid conflicts or make them less bloody for the own side.
      The problem is an attitude of conflict and dominance at the exclusion of other solutions for the same net effect.
      Ancient Athens is a good illustration.

      The US has four pillars of power:
      Military might, intelligence (SIGINT), financial industry and manufacturing (hard- and software).

      Manufacturing is on a shift and in part on a decline. It was this pillar that helped erect the others.
      The financial industry started out as a tool of manufacturing and agricultural export. By now they can serve as the most opaque tribute collectors.
      The military developed into the protector and controller of global sea lines of communication. Their level of blue water control enables them to maintain world order and creates formal and informal treaties for business to use=exploit.
      Intelligence gives business a cutting edge, even more so in information dependant fields. The financial industry and intelligence are by no means disconnected anywhere.

      I see a shift from the old manufacturing pillar to more reliance on the financial industry pillar that exploits situations even less in mutual agreement. In theory, a military-industrial complex - intelligence complex and financial complex can combine into a self-sustaining system of a "tribute" financed military backed order. The extraction, trickle down and recollection for system requiremnets is quite complicated and prone to fraud in such an opaque structure(favouring the enrichment of people with good positions instead of achievements).
      It's a kind of economic Dutch disease, but instead of natural resources, the treasure trove of financial lines of communication gets exploited.
      As a Dutch disease, it does erode manufacturing capability due to high marginal capital benefits. A reduced manufacturing base requires higher payments to the military industrial complex in order to keep this critical manufacturing core at uneconomic costs. Without it, the exploitation opportunities across all lines of communication would erode. It's a requirement not only to have a giant military spending and overawing hardware numbers, but to exercise them in enforced projection of one's will and have a forceable hold on key components of capabilities for global transactions.

    2. You made a very accurate analysis of the metropolitan areas of an empire.
      Any empire.
      I think the first which went through exactly the same predicament you described was Assyria. Including the stomping of the empire building ethnic group in its own homeland - that was not mentioned in the your analysis and I took the liberty to add it.
      The evolutions are pretty easy to understand now. Just as a resource rich country can not avoid catching the dutch disease the imperial metro area can not avoid getting its productive activities eliminated, a huge metastatic security complex, huge migration waves from vassal areas, wiping out of its middle class - be it free landowning peasantry or well payed industrial/service workers etc.
      The only interesting and new - from a historical point of view - factor is that todays top dog has a lot of nuclear weapons. So a collapse similar to the Assyrian one is out of the question.
      And US plutocracy is just as keen as the Assyrian one to keep the wealth pump working. And is much better equipped to prevent if from being broken by any competitor.
      The evolutions you described lead to the hollowing of the imperial center. It becomes "a corpse in an armor". So until now a military defeat led to the collapse of the already dead hegemon. But now?

    3. As about what Japan can do or not the energy status of the world imposes great constraints I believe.
      You might check this file : Complete English translation of German military analysis of peak oil

      Changes the perspective.
      After reading the German report we might conclude they can not do much. Probably nothing at all except pray they will have enough to eat during the descent. And that might be too much to dream of for them. Good though that their nuclear complex is getting eliminated, just like Germany's. It makes a rather safer future for all of us in what are probably very hard decades to come.

    4. There are enough options to create a replacement for fossil fuel. Japan can use lots of wind- and waterpower(storing energy), while Australia and other desert places will erect huge complexes of solar mirrors to convert coal and biomass into energy enriched fuel. Apartheid South Africa pulled this off, just like WWII Europe.
      There's no reason to be afraid of peak oil, but you should prepare your economy for a time with less fossil fuel available for your money.

    5. I feel like all this excitement about the end of crude is abating anyway, and its not as simple as equating crude with fossil fuel (eg. coal will be used for a long time still). Proven and exploitable gas reserves provide plenty of supply for at least another 150 years (coal will last even longer).
      In fact the big story of the next two decades or so, I believe, will be the switch from oil to LNG, not so much renewables. Its not as much of a topic for popular discussion, but the industrial development is well underway. Renewables will see a rise, but not as drastic as some people (myself included) would like to see. Hard to see where nuclear goes, but the Chinese at least are adding plenty of capacity there too.

    6. Correction for the number 150, I seem to have pulled it out of my a**. Depending on which reports are considered credible, reserves stand at between 60 and 90 years for natural gas. The impact of new technologies (CSG etc) remains to be seen. Peak production is not expected before 2030. Certainly the ratio between crude and natural gas will tilt towards the latter.

    7. Dear Kurt,

      "Apartheid South Africa pulled this off, just like WWII Europe."

      Well actually they didn't. Neither of them . The key is called net energy.In WW2 Europe we are not even talking about trying to maintain an industrial society. Just to produce very small amounts of usable fuel for some military equipments.
      I read a lot of wishful thinking of this kind in German books from the 30s. Of course it was rather mystical then technical like todays hype with wind power. No one talks about net energy because the entire story would have to be dropped that very instant.

      Someone describes this very well:
      " You can’t use incantations and rituals, for example, to put oil in the ground if it was never there in the first place, or if the oil fields have already been pumped dry. You can’t even use magic to run a successful coal-to-liquids program if the net energy of the technology you’re using is too low; Hitler’s regime did its level best to accomplish that, with some of the world’s best scientists and engineers, the substantial coal reserves of occupied Europe, and an unrestricted supply of slave labor – and the Wehrmacht still ran out of fuel."

      Also there seems to be less exploitable coal then previously thought. A tiny difference between reserves and resources. Not the same.

  6. This ain't about oil, but about the second-order effects of upward changes of military spending...

    1. Exactly.
      But you mentioned Japan. And energy constraints have a great impact on the example. It is already suffocating.
      In a plateau energy production - plateau when prices spiked 5 times means .... - growth of some areas means that others have to reduce consumption and go straight into recession. At first of course, depression comes after.
      Precisely what EU, US and japan experience right now.
      Some increase in Japan's military spending - which they afford less and less by the day - would at first mean a decrease of US treasury buying and so a reduction of US expenses and would bring ....precisely what?
      A US pretty hostile reaction at first and then a hostile reaction from the other Asian countries from the Pacific Rim. But I believe that US would put an end to such nonsense very fast.
      Japan has no options. None at all.
      But in order to understand why and how, the energy angle had to be taken into consideration.
      German army explains quite nicely what type of constraints are starting to be felt right now.
      Without considering the real life constraints affecting a society no realistic assessment can be made.
      The area is anyway arming itself as much as economy and technology allows. And political constraints in some cases like Japan as a supplementary factor.

    2. Dear Theo, in WWII the Germans were being bombed, especially their inventions for making fuel were bombed to inefficiency.
      South Africa built upon this technology and had no hostile air campaign. That gave them the chance to pull it off.

      Fuel and availability is a future factor of rising costs, because more people want to consume more and whether or not something runs out, we will have enhanced growth by big style taping into conversion of solar derived energy(wind, sunlight, biomass and so on) into storeable forms. Japan furthermore has Kamkatcha nearby that can use geothermic resources to produce energy like Iceland and export it.

      Japanese military spending is not related to the US debt to any significant degree and Japan is a good US arms customer. Your point of view is slightly on the extreme of seeing collapses and coercion others don't see.

    3. Dear Kurt,

      With huge capital investments, having aces to a practically unlimited cheap slave population - that is the entire pop of the continent - and quite large coal resources already in exploitation all that could be hoped for was to produce a few million tonnes.
      Enough for the army to be able to move some equipments. Not enough of course for any economic use.
      In SA the infrastructure was created due to quite similar reasons.
      The idea is that we do not have the net energy inputs. Now probably natural gas will be used in desperation to produce liquids. Does not change the premises of the problem at all.
      Biomass to liquid fuel is another way of finding the Carbon. The Hydrogen comes from water so it is not a problem.
      Of course all this processes use a lot of energy. Which comes from ....
      Nuclear it was hopes, The wind, Then solar, now shale gas etc. The source of net energy keeps moving like the horizon.
      Wind for example is not a new development in Europe. Now we have fewer wind mills/turbines then 100 years ago.
      But they made sense then. Mechanical energy put to use.
      Now we want to keep a much more sophisticated industrial/social system so its mechanical - rotor movement - to electricity, then transport at long distances, then again mechanical or whatever. If you have any idea how all this works then you understand my reluctance.
      Kamchatka?? Geothermal?
      Some hot water comes out of the ground in Iceland. They use it for different purposes. Some monkeys is Japan do the same - I saw on Discovery. It is not a source of net energy we can use.
      The idea is that we do not have any alternative source of energy which might sustain industrial society. Nada.

      Nakasone if I remember correctly wrote the book " Japan that can say No".
      Good stuff he was smoking. His US overlords laughed and they told them to get back in line. Which they did because surprise ,Japan can not say no. In fact it's pretty irrelevant if they say anything at all. All they can do is to apply ad literam the American decisions.
      But of course it is hard to see coercion involved. :)
      Japan is a good customer like Saudi is. US MIC complex can drop anything there. At any price it might desire.
      Part of the military spending Japan and almost all social spending of KSA are directly related to US debt. More money spent internally means less US treasuries. I said part of Japan's spending because a significant part goes to US MIC. So it is not a loss for the US.
      That is the connection. Could not be simpler.