Japan Defense Ministry, SDF scandals worry ruling party, fears impact on efforts to increase defense spending

Japan Defense Ministry, SDF scandals worry ruling party, fears impact on efforts to increase defense spending

Yomiuri Shimbun archive photo
The headquarters of the Ministry of Defense in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo

Multiple scandals involving the Ministry of Defense and the Self-Defense Forces have raised concerns among the ruling Liberal Democratic Party as the issues could impact debate on strengthening the country’s defense capabilities and raising taxes to secure fiscal resources.

Some say the scandals could escalate into calls for Defense Minister Minoru Kihara to resign and take responsibility. The government and the LDP intend to speed up efforts to clarify the problems and take measures to prevent them from happening again.

The Ministry confirms the allegations

“We have witnessed one scandal after another, more than ever before. I really wonder what is going on,” former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, who heads the LDP’s security research committee, said Wednesday at the start of a joint meeting of the committee and the party’s National Defense Division.

The Defense Ministry said Friday it would conduct a special defense inspection into allegations that Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. gave money and goods to members of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and provided them with food and drink entertainment in exchange for submarine repair contracts.

A number of incidents have been uncovered in the MSDF where assigned security secrets were mishandled. It is also suspected that some MSDF divers fraudulently received allowances for diving missions by making false declarations. Some defense bureaucrats are also suspected of abusing their authority over subordinates.

Koichiro Nakajima, director general of the Defense Minister’s Secretariat, confirmed all the allegations. The ministry plans to announce penalties for various cases of misconduct as early as Friday.

Fear of spreading scandals

Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. are the only companies producing submarines in Japan, so the ministry revealed Wednesday that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will also be subject to special defense inspection.

“Please make sure that similar misconduct has not occurred in connection with vessels other than submarines,” Onodera said, apparently fearing that the scandals would spread further.

The government plans to increase defense spending from fiscal 2023 to a total of 43 trillion yen over five years in response to Japan’s increasingly stringent security environment. It plans to gradually increase income and other taxes through fiscal 2027 as part of measures to secure necessary financial resources.

“It is a serious problem if such irregularities occur when we are asking taxpayers to share the burden,” said one of the MPs attending the meeting.

In 2017, then-Defense Minister Tomomi Inada was forced to resign to take responsibility for a scandal involving daily reports of UN peacekeeping operations in South Sudan conducted by the Ground Self-Defense Forces.

“This is a truly extraordinary situation. If nothing is done immediately, it will only complicate matters further,” the former LDP defense minister said.

130 billion yen remained unused

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters on Wednesday that of the approximately 6.8219 trillion yen earmarked for defense in the fiscal year 2023 budget, about 130 billion yen is expected to return to state coffers without being used.

The amount would be the second largest after the amount in fiscal year 2011, which was the result of the impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The lower-than-expected spending for fiscal year 2023 was attributed to defense equipment purchase costs that were lower than estimates, and reduced personnel costs for salaries and food for SDF personnel as the number of newly recruited SDF members fell to a record low.