Bombed-out and poverty-stricken after World War II, Japan disbanded its military and renounced war, devoting its efforts instead to economic development under a pacifist constitution. More than seven decades later, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spooked Prime Minister Fumio Kishida into pledging a substantial increase in defense spending, which has long been only about half the target set for its Western counterparts.
Yes and no. While the country spends more than 5 trillion yen ($37.6 billion) a year on defense, the ninth-largest budget in the world in actual size, it refers to its 138,000-strong military as the Self-Defense Forces. Those forces, founded in the 1950s, boast impressive equipment including light aircraft carriers, fighter jets and ballistic-missile defense systems. But there are strict rules about what the SDF is allowed to do, and its right even to exist under the US-drafted pacifist constitution has been called into question by scholars. One of the founding principles of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party was to revise that document, which it still hasn’t done seven decades later. The party has laid out proposals to add a reference to the SDF.