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Japan shedding pacifist agenda in biggest defence overhaul since WWII

Japan is set to approve a major defence policy overhaul, including a significant spending hike, as it sheds its years-long pacifist policy to face the “greatest strategic challenge ever” posed by China.

In its most significant defence shake-up in decades, Japan is expected to increase security spending to two percent of GDP by 2027, reshape its military command, and acquire new missiles that can strike far-flung enemy launch sites.

This will be Japan’s biggest military shake-up since World War II.

“Fundamentally strengthening our defence capabilities is the most urgent challenge in this severe security environment,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said last week.

The moves will be outlined in three defence and security documents the cabinet is set to approve on Friday.

They are expected to describe Beijing as “the greatest strategic challenge ever to securing the peace and stability of Japan” and a “serious concern” for Japan and the international community.

Increasing counterstrike capabilities 

The government plans to raise its defence spending to two percent of GDP by 2027, bringing Japan in line with NATO member guidelines.

The money will fund several projects, including the acquisition of what Japan calls “counterstrike capacity” – the ability to hit launch sites that potentially threaten the country.

While Japanese governments have long suggested that counterstrikes to neutralise enemy attacks would be permissible under the constitution, there has been little appetite to secure the capacity.

That has shifted with the continued growth of Chinese military might and a record volley of North Korean missile launches in recent months, including over Japanese territory.

Still, in a nod to the sensitivity of the issue, the documents are likely to rule out preemptive strikes, and insist Japan is committed to “an exclusively defence-oriented policy”.

Major shift in defence policy

The counterstrike capacity will involve upgrading existing Japanese weaponry and buying US-made Tomahawk missiles, reportedly up to 500.

Other changes are expected to include establishing a permanent joint command for Japan’s armed forces and enhancing the country’s coastguard.

Among the documents is the National Security Strategy, which is being updated for the first time since its 2013 launch.

Japan has joined Western allies in imposing sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, sending relations into a deep freeze.

According to Chris Hughes, professor of international politics and Japanese studies at the University of Warwick, the strategy contained in the documents represents a major evolution of Japan’s military posture.

“The Japanese government will depict these changes as necessary, moderate and wholly in line with previous defence posture,” said Hughes.

Still, “they are going to, in the words often used by the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party itself in policy documents, ‘radically strengthen’ Japan’s military power,” added Hughes, author of the book “Japan as a Global Military Power”.

READ MORE: Japan eyes $318B defence spending as it shifts policy on preemptive strike

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