TOKYO (AP) — The highest-ranking U.S. military officer on Friday encouraged Japan’s commitment to doubling defense spending over the next five years, calling Tokyo’s controversial push for a stronger military crucial to making in the face of growing threats from North Korea and China.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, mentioned Japan’s need for improved cruise missile defense, early warning missile systems and air capabilities, which would help the United States to counter North Korea’s push for a nuclear missile program capable of precisely targeting the American mainland and China’s growing aggression against Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing claims as its own.
China has “invested heavily in its military” and aspires to be “the regional hegemony in all of Asia, most likely within the next 10 to 15 years”, Milley said.
It “could become very unstable; it could become very dangerous, and I think having a strong Japan, a militarily capable Japan that has a close alliance with the United States and other countries, will go a long way in deterring war,” Milley said.
Milley’s comments to reporters at the US ambassador’s residence in downtown Tokyo provide an explicit US military analysis of an increasingly volatile security situation in Northeast Asia. With more than 80,000 US troops in Japan and South Korea, and increasing military movements from North Korea and China, the possibility of war in the region has become a growing concern. Washington wants its allies, especially in Tokyo and Seoul, to do more.
Japan, meanwhile, has long struggled with the need for a strong military amid national and regional distrust of anything deemed too aggressive. Japanese soldiers overran much of Asia in the years leading up to World War II, and the nation is still viewed with anger by many surrounding countries due to the perception that it has not fully repented.
Milley also addressed North Korea’s latest missile test launch, a solid-fuel ICBM that he said “clearly demonstrates an intent to develop a capability to strike the continental United States.” Without providing details of the North’s missile program, he said, “It has our attention.”
Japan’s budget for the coming fiscal year calls for a record 6.8 trillion yen ($50 billion) in defense spending, up 20% from the previous year. This includes 211.3 billion yen ($1.55 billion) for the deployment of US-made long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles that can be launched from warships and can hit targets up to 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles).
The hefty defense budget is the first installment of a five-year, 43 trillion yen ($315 billion) military spending plan under Japan’s new national security strategy, which was announced in December.
The new spending target is in line with NATO standards and will eventually bring Japan’s annual defense budget to around 10 trillion yen ($73 billion), the third largest in the world after the United States. and China.
“I have no doubt that the Japanese military could quickly expand in scale, size, scope and skills very, very quickly,” Milley said.
Milley also spoke of the need to expedite US military assistance to Taiwan, citing the island’s need for better air defence, mines, and air-to-air and shore-to-ship capabilities.
“What we oppose is any … use of the military to force some kind of unification,” Milley said. “Taiwan should have the ability to defend itself” in order to deter any aggression from China.
“The rate at which we, the United States or other countries, are helping Taiwan improve its defensive capabilities, I think that probably needs to be accelerated in the years to come,” Milley said.