English-language resources hardly address the subject, but the 1 percent policy (which is not law) was, next to the constitution itself, one of the most tenacious obstacles restricting meaningful defense reform in Japan. Like the glacial five-year Midterm Defense Plan system Japan currently utilizes for defense spending, the 1 percent restriction was an antiquated feature that needed to go. Its origins, stretching back to 1976 and reflecting a Japan seeking to halt runaway Cold War defense expenditures, worked for Japan’s own particular situation and era; that of a Japan which turned toward a Japan-based U.S. forward presence as a main deterrent to the Soviet Union, abstaining from both expensive standing armies and pricey nuclear forces. Times have clearly changed.
There is only one immediate implication of this policy adjustment: we can expect Abe to raise the defense budget as high as he and his administration dare beyond 1 percent of GDP. Despite the removal of this significant barrier, Japan’s emaciated defense budget still faces multiple hurdles if it is to grow in order to meet East Asia’s rapidly changing defense environment. First and foremost of these hurdles is the power and entrenchment of the Ministry of Finance. While the Japanese constitution clearly gives the Diet the role of passing a budget, whether or not that budget survives the process is up to the Ministry of Finance.
This article, though, doesn’t mention the one thing that really has to be on Prime Minister Abe’s mind of late, defense-wise, and that is the stunted fat little gargoyle with bad hair from a long line of stunted fat little gargoyles with bad hair who run the isolated Stalinist state of North Korea.
It’s not news that the bat-guano crazy Norks have been increasingly bellicose of late. Given their drive to weaponize their nukes and their penchant for launching missiles as “tests” in Japan’s direction, re-militarizing may be the smartest thing Japan can do right now.
And that might be good for us, too; Japan has kind of forgotten it in the past seventy years or so, but they are a nation with a strong martial tradition, and a muscular Japan – who is, incidentally, at present our best ally in the western Pacific – might be beneficial to U.S. interests in the region.
It’s also highly doubtful that the Trump Administration will seek to dissuade our friends should they move down this path.