Not surprisingly, many people following the Western media wonder if the recent flurry of the Abe administration’s activity around its national security agenda represents a shift away from its focus on the economy a la Abenomics. Short answer: No. A slightly longer answer: That’s a media-driven perspective that fails to take into account the administrative and legislative cycles that brought the elements of the national security agenda together at this point—I can even explain why it had to be on Tuesday, and not Monday or Wednesday. Do you want a longer one? Read the following response to an inquiry, from which a snarky aside is quoted here. Hopefully, the irony is more evident within the broader context.
Aside: To the best of my knowledge, no one has pointed out yet that the FY2014-2018 Mid-term Defense Program represents “a 2% annual budget hike in real terms”. Lazy media!
There is no change/shift in PM Abe’s agenda. The three-part—does Abe do everything in threes?—national security agenda announced [on December 17] merely fills out the one he returned to office with. The timing is the outcome of predetermined administrative and legislative processes: namely the new 1)-a National Security Strategy issued conjointly with the revised 1)-b National Defense Guidelines for 2014 and beyond and 1)-c Mid-term Defense Program (FY2014-2018) in time for the FY2014 budget (hence the December timing) and the 2)-a National Security Basic Act (and 2)-b National Security Secrets Act) as the legal foundation for 1)-a (hence the legislative frontloading for the just-ended extraordinary Diet session).
The land-to-air/sea, north (Russia)-to-south(China) strategic shift is an ongoing process that continued interrupted during the DPJ interregnum. . It is in large part the reflection of the growing, increasingly assertive Chinese military and its presence in the East China Sea region and beyond, a process that in itself has continued for several decades on the basis of annual double-digit budget growth. The newly projected defense gadgetry also reflects technological and tactical progress between the interrupted FY2011-2015 Program and the new FY2014-018 Program.
On the core issues regarding national security, Abe has had to put collective defense on hold and will likely have to moderate his stance in light of Komeito reluctance, while amending Article 9 is likely to remain a pipe dream for the same reason. The export arms ban will be relaxed while making some accommodations, again, for Komeito’s sake, but the current policy is essentially based on a Diet session response and a chief cabinet secretary’s statement, not quite written in sand but hardly the stuff of bedrock constitutional concern. The FY2014-2018 Program includes a 2% annual budget hike in real terms, which is a real turnaround but still well-behind what can be reasonably projected for China in the foreseeable future.
Is Japan becoming a “normal” country? Well, it still won’t have nuclear weapons, ballistic or cruise missiles, strategic bombers, aircraft carriers and other normal trappings of a super-state even after the 2% per year buildup, so the PLA military can sleep easy. Much of the negative response reflects political concerns. That said, it is likely that a (slightly) better-equipped and more utile Japanese military will be further integrated within the bilateral alliance; that should be displeasing to China’s national security establishment, which hopes to gain ground (and sea and air space) long-term on what it sees as a declining US.