CHANGE. MAYBE. Abe Scraps Japan’s 1 Percent GDP Defense Spending Cap.

English-language resources hardly address the subject, but the 1 percent policy (which is not law) was, next to the constitution itself, one of the most tenacious obstacles restricting meaningful defense reform in Japan. Like the glacial five-year Midterm Defense Plan system Japan currently utilizes for defense spending, the 1 percent restriction was an antiquated feature that needed to go. Its origins, stretching back to 1976 and reflecting a Japan seeking to halt runaway Cold War defense expenditures, worked for Japan’s own particular situation and era; that of a Japan which turned toward a Japan-based U.S. forward presence as a main deterrent to the Soviet Union, abstaining from both expensive standing armies and pricey nuclear forces. Times have clearly changed.

There is only one immediate implication of this policy adjustment: we can expect Abe to raise the defense budget as high as he and his administration dare beyond 1 percent of GDP. Despite the removal of this significant barrier, Japan’s emaciated defense budget still faces multiple hurdles if it is to grow in order to meet East Asia’s rapidly changing defense environment. First and foremost of these hurdles is the power and entrenchment of the Ministry of Finance. While the Japanese constitution clearly gives the Diet the role of passing a budget, whether or not that budget survives the process is up to the Ministry of Finance.

Just because the people’s representatives pass it doesn’t mean the bureaucracy does it — sound familiar?