Tokyo Notes

The Rising Costs of War

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Tokyo Notes

The Rising Costs of War

US defence spending has risen 63 percent in the last decade. Will Japan be expected to help foot more of the bill?

Amid all the gloomy talk of mass redundancies, shrinking government and slashed welfare budgets, it might be time to pause and consider one area that seems immune to cuts: weapons.

Stockholm-based watchdog the International Peace Research Institute is preparing to follow up its 2010 report on global military expenditure, which reached an eye-watering $1531 billion in 2009. Nobody is betting on a fall in 2010-11.

Governments spend approximately 50 percent more now on weapons and soldiers than they did in 2000; the US figure is up 63 percent in real terms. That’s likely an underestimate too—few researchers calculate the total costs of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. When he tried a few years ago, Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz concluded with the unfathomably large figure of $3 trillion—twice what it cost the US to fight World War I.

According to the liberal think tank the Project on Defence Alternatives, the US spends $459,000 per soldier, 3 times what it cost during the height of the Cold War. The United States accounts for 54 percent of the world’s military budget, more than China, Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Italy, South Korea, Brazil, Canada and Australia combined, says Time magazine.

So what about Japan? Spending on defence here has hovered between 0.9 percent and 1 percent of GDP for decades, held down by the half-century military alliance with the United States. That sounds modest, but in 2009 Japan’s military budget of $51.81 billion was still the fifth largest in the world according to Jane’s Defence News

As a sign of gratitude for these long years of support, and as America’s ever-loyal ally, perhaps Japan could have a word in the ear of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa doesn’t even have to put his neck out by using his own words—he can borrow from Stiglitz, who warns in very stark terms about the true cost of the United States’ tumescent military spending:

‘The price in blood has been paid by our voluntary military and by hired contractors. The price in treasure has, in a sense, been financed entirely by borrowing. Taxes have not been raised to pay for it—in fact, taxes on the rich have actually fallen.’

If that’s asking too much, perhaps Kitazawa could simply resist the blandishments of Washington to follow it down the path of military prolificacy. The need for stout hearts in Japan’s defence ministry is likely to grow in the coming years as the US finds it simply has no money to keep feeding its titanic armed forces.

As a taste of things to come, we have the current controversy over the shared development of the Japan-US missile defence project, which was kick-started in 2004 during the Koizumi government. The total costs of this project to Japan were scheduled to reach $113.3 million, according to the Asahi newspaper.

In October 2009, Gates ‘informally’ asked Kitazawa to revise its strict guidelines on weapons’ exports to countries in the communist-bloc, subject to UN arms export embargoes or ‘involved in or likely to be involved in international conflicts,’ says the newspaper. Gates wanted Japan to provide full technical cooperation in development and manufacture of the system.

The Asahi notes the commercial applications: ‘The United States, which had announced in September 2009 that it would deploy the ballistic missile defence system in Europe, has been signalling its intention to sell the systems…to Europe and others.’

In the end, it seems the negotiations on changing the guidelines faltered this month on Japan’s insistence that cabinet approval would be needed first, and that the foreign minister would have to sign off on each export of specific items. A Japanese defence ministry official lamented that the negotiations broke down because Japan lacked ‘tenacity.’

He shouldn’t worry because Washington will undoubtedly be back. As Takeo Harada, a former MOFA official says in an article this month, the US strategy is to ‘conduct wars in which the defence industries can profit while holding casualties among its own soldiers to a minimum, such as through use of unmanned drones and defensive missile systems.’

That, and the increasingly perilous state of US finances, is likely to increase the pressure for more regional military partners to foot the bill.