By Wyatt Hartwig
April 17, 1895 – modern Japan just concluded its first large-scale war. Under Emperor Meiji, the country underwent three decades of rapid industrialization. It then proceeded to humiliate the Qing Dynasty in an eight-month war that resulted in Japan truly beginning their programme of regional dominance. Over the following half century, Japan would come to dominate all of East Asia via its naval prowess and imperialist policies. However, following its defeat in 1945, Japan was given a new pacifist constitution by the victorious American administrators in 1947.
Article 9 of this new constitution states that Japan renounces war as a right of the state and that the state may not maintain armed forces. Despite this, in 1959 the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that Japan may maintain self-defense forces, and in 2014, the current Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, adapted article 9 to allow for collective self-defense, meaning Japan may deploy forces to protect allies if they are attacked. Since the 1960s, Japan has built up one of the world’s most advanced self-defense force and has one of the largest navies as well.
In September 2017, Prime Minister Abe called for snap elections to give his party, the Liberal Democratic Party, a strong mandate for reform. The ruling coalition (LDP and Komeito) campaigned largely on rising threats from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China. The National Diet, the Japanese Congress, elections on October 22 confirmed his coalition’s sixty-seven percent ruling majority, enough to change or eliminate Article 9 from the Constitution. For better or worse, attitudes in Japan toward the military have become more positive in recent years, and the younger generation has shown increased interest in becoming involved with the Japan Self-Defense Forces. Without any constitutional yokes, the world’s third largest, and most advanced, economy is more than capable of maintaining, or even increasing, its military capacities beyond self defense.
States often aspire to develop their navies in order to project their overall power and prestige on a regional or global level. While there are exceptions to this upon reflection, the case referring to Japan is not one of them. Japan saw the power of a modern navy with the arrival of Matthew Perry in 1852, who, on the orders of the American government, forced an end to Japan’s age-old isolationist policies of Sakoku. With this end, however, came new beginnings as Japan grudgingly accepted the adoption Western practices and began the development their own Imperial Navy.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Japan’s yearly economic output is roughly five trillion dollars, ranking the state as the third largest economy after the United States and China. Additionally, Japan spent $46.1 billion on their military in 2016, which constitutes 1% of their GDP. This puts their proportional expenditure well below the world average of 2.2% expenditure. An increase in funding would likely go towards the expansion and coordination of their already impressive navy – the state’s most important branch of the military.
If Japan decided to increase its military expenditure to the NATO recommended proportion of 2%, it would result in a budgetary increase in military spending to $92.2 billion, placing them in third place for overall spending behind America and China. Additionally, Japan builds much of their own military equipment, often licensed and modified from US designs, which boosts Japan’s arms security. For example, Japan’s F-2 multirole fighter is a modified licensed aircraft (developed from the Lockheed Martin F-16). With a unit cost of roughly $60 million, Japan could potentially afford to buy about 750 additional fighters (number as of 2017 is 94). The state’s ability to significantly alter its military presence in the region if it so chose is striking.
Turning toward naval platforms, Japan operates four helicopter destroyers, anti-submarine warfare ships, two of the 27,000 ton Izumo-class and two of the 19,000 ton Hyūga-class. Both are modern vessels; however, the larger Izumo ships are more advanced and have the potential to carry 28 aircraft as opposed to the potential of the Hyūga-class, which is 18 aircraft.
With increased funding, Japan would not be able to build carriers to be on par with the United States, but it could come make a dramatic increase. The unit cost for the now outdated Nimitz-class supercarriers is about $8.5 billion in 2012 dollars. Due to economies of scale, if Japan wished to build similar carriers, the cost would actually be substantially higher as Japan would not be able to order ten as the United States did. However, a better comparison is the Queen Elizabeth-class of aircraft carriers. The total cost allocated to the construction of two ships by the House of Commons was £6.2 billion ($8.4 billion). These vessels carry 40 aircraft, half of what the Nimitz-class carriers hold, but they are among the most advanced carriers in world. So while the budgetary increase would not mean Japan is building American-style ships, it is likely that Japan would build several medium sized carriers instead.
The potential construction of new carriers brings up the need for other ship constructions as well. Aircraft carriers are important for a nation’s power projection, but they must be protected by other vessels at all times. The US Seventh Fleet protects the Nimitz-class USS George Washington with seven modern aegis destroyers – missile destroyers with highly advanced radar systems – and several missile cruisers. Japan’s surface fleet as of 2017 operates six aegis destroyers as well as about twenty other destroyers. Their most advanced and best suited to protecting carriers is the $1.5 billion Atago-class destroyer. If Japan wished to build up a carrier navy, it would also have to increase the number of modern destroyers it has to provide protection.
Recalling the proposed budgetary increase of about $46 billion, the Japanese could, over the course of a decade or so, build up such a navy. However, such an endeavor is expensive to begin and maintain. Even with their new supermajority, it is unclear what Shinzo Abe’s party and administration will outline for the future of the Japanese military, but budgetary increases in December suggest that military spending will be on the rise. This, however, does not guarantee that Japan will decide to go by the NATO recommended 2% of GDP. However, if Japan wished to pursue such a budget, there is much they could do with an extra $46 billion, especially over the course of the next decade.
 Motoko Rich. (August 29, 2017). “A Pacifist Japan Starts to Embrace the Military.” The New York Times.
 “The United States and the Opening to Japan, 1853.” (2018). US Office of the Historian.
 “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2016.” (April 2017). Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
 “Lockheed Martin gets $250M F-2 Contract.” (2008). Forbes.
 United States Navy. “United States Navy Fact File: Aircraft Carriers-CVN.”( January 31, 2017). http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid=200&ct=4
 UK Parliament Website. “Oral Answers to Questions.” 6 Nov 2013 : Column 231. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131106/debtext/131106-0001.htm#13110656000003
 United States Navy. “COMCARSTRKGRU FIVE- About Task Force 70 and Carrier Strike Group 5.” Retrieved from internet archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20141017163548/http://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/ccsg5/Pages/ourship.aspx
 The Japanese Times. “Aegis equipped warship Ashigara launched.” (August 31, 2006).