Japan military expansion has ramifications for Canada
TORONTO - Is the land of the rising sun about to cast a new military shadow over a deeply troubled Asia?
It’s not a rhetorical question. On the available evidence the answer would have to be ‘yes’ — and then some.
Japan has a new conservative government and its opening move was to announce, for the first time in over a decade, a major lift in defence spending.
Incoming Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed last week that Tokyo is looking to beef up its ability to protect itself and its territory as an ongoing row with China over a series of East China Sea islands claimed by both sides rumbles on.
That’s not the only threat in what is becoming an increasingly tough neighbourhood. Japan lives with the constant threat of a rogue North Korea testing intercontinental missiles and nuclear weapons-carrying rockets in the shared territory of the Sea of Japan.
All the while Russia tenaciously hangs on to the disputed Kuril Islands to the north of the Japanese homeland.
“Our stance that we will adamantly protect our waters and territories has not changed at all. As I said before, there is no room for negotiations,” an unusually hardline Abe told reporters after the government approved $117 billion of spending in a combined bid to both revive the economy and increase the annual defence outlay.
China, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines have all flagged changes to their defence postures in the past 12 months, with regional tensions leading to renewed investment in naval forces.
At issue are islands spread across the South China Sea variously claimed and disputed by all the nations mentioned above, with the Philippines especially involved in a bitter dispute over the Spratly Islands.
This remote chain lies within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile territorial limit yet Peking says it owns them. The latter is in the process of building military bases on the tiny islets to enhance its claims.
America has sniffed these winds of change and reacted accordingly. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a ‘pivot to Asia’ two years ago that will gather momentum in 2013.
That reassignment of priorities from the Middle East and NATO will see more naval assets assigned to the Asia/Pacific area and ready Marine brigades stationed in Singapore and Australia.
For Japan, its lift in defence spending will enable it to proceed with the building of two new DDH 22 aircraft carriers — the biggest warships it has launched since 1945.
Although ostensibly designed for helicopter use, the ships feature large outboard aircraft elevators capable of holding naval versions of the Lockheed F-35 fighters Japan is now receiving. At 24,000-tons displacement they are comparable to Second World War-era Essex class fleet carriers of the U.S. Navy and come with four main ammunition elevators to feed the flight deck.
With a current order of battle which includes more than 50 frigates and destroyers, and some 16 modern diesel-electric submarines, the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) is one of the world’s largest naval forces and looks set to remain that way for the next decade at least.
Canada has a long Pacific coastline and Ottawa is watching military developments with interest while at the same time readying for an ambitious naval rebuilding program of its own.
According to a recent paper published by Philippe Lagasse through the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI) Canada’s efforts to boost its fleets is making slower than expected progress.
“Canada’s Conservative government is committed to recapitalizing the Canadian military’s major fleets — at least in principle,” Lagasse writes. “Unfortunately … [it] has not gone as well as hoped.
“The sheer size and complexity of recapitalizing the military, as well as the burdens placed on the defence department’s limited procurement staff, slowed the process from the beginning.”
Lagasse, who is assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, says that the Canadian military, and specifically the Royal Canadian Navy must, for the moment at least, “do less with less.”
“There is no doubt that Canada is looking for a major overhaul in naval assets particularly but there have been monetary restrictions predicated on our engagements in other theatres like Afghanistan and Libya.
“So far the ship building yards that will be building the RCN ships of the future have been identified but little else. We still await designs to be chosen and funds to be allocated.”
Until that time comes, Canada can only watch events in the Pacific with mounting interest and little else.