Japan's Defense Ministry is seeking by far its highest budget for fiscal 2018 beginning next April, which, if approved, will be the sixth consecutive increase in the country's defense expenditure, reflecting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's penchant for military expansion. The proposed 2.5 percent hike will raise the budget to 5.26 trillion yen ($48 billion), which the ministry says is needed to pay for upgraded missile interceptors, six F-35 stealth fighters, four V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, and new naval vessels, including a submarine and two compact warships.
A country constitutionally bound to maintain armed forces purely for defensive purposes certainly doesn't need such military equipment for national security, most of which is anyway provided by its military ally, the United States.
Yet Japan, under a bellicose Abe, has been setting one record after another not only in increasing military budgets but also in leading Japan on the dangerous path of militarism. Instead of sincerely reflecting upon Japan's wartime past and atoning for the atrocities the Japanese army committed before and during World War II, Abe has made every effort to revise Japan's pacifist Constitution, so that he can build a strong military.
To justify Abe's military expansion plans, many Japanese media outlets have accused China of posing a threat to Japan. They have used Japan's maritime dispute with China in the East China Sea as an excuse for the hikes in Japan's defense budgets, disregarding the fact that Tokyo was solely responsible for escalating the dispute.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, too, is high on Japan's blame list, and by test-firing a missile over Japan on Tuesday, Pyongyang seems to have played into the hands of Tokyo. The DPRK deserves the strongest condemnation for its provocative action, but it remains unclear as to how great a threat it poses to Japan. More importantly, countering a potential threat by building a bigger arsenal could lead to counterproductive and even dangerous outcomes, not only for Japan but also for the whole of Northeast Asia.
The current deadlock over the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue shows using military action as an option to resolve it will worsen and complicate the situation further. To salvage the situation, which seems to have reached a tipping point, the parties involved need to exercise strategic patience and establish communication.
But what Japan is doing, instead, could trigger an arms race, throwing the strategic equilibrium in the region off balance, setting alight the tinderbox that the peninsula has become.
Should such a scenario become reality, Japan will find the consequences of its military ambition almost impossible to swallow.