Though not "Western" - Japan has its own gloriously unique culture - since WWII it can fairly be said that they are an adjunct to the West. They have a vibrant democracy with exceptional rule of law and universal suffrage. What they don't have is a fully realized and confident military.
Considering what militarization did on the edges of living memory to Japan, the hesitancy is understandable. As we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, it is well past time for Japan to join fully the defense of the modern world. She is a front-line state against a rising anti-democratic China, and her "big sister" the USA may or may not be able to help her as much as she would wish in a few scenarios.
As such, this is welcome news;
Japan’s government approved a record military budget on Friday but did not earmark enough extra money to stop a splurge on U.S.-made ballistic missile defense kit from putting a squeeze on funding for an ambitious domestic jet fighter project.OK, let's do a little back of the bar-napkin math here. This is about a 2.5% increase over 2017. That brings their defense spending to $45.76 billion. If you include OCO, the USA spends ~ $639.1 billion.
That includes purchases of a new longer range interceptor, the SM-3 Block IIA, designed to strike ballistic missiles in space, upgrades for the Patriot missile batteries that are the last line of defense against incoming warheads and preparations for the construction of two ground-based Aegis radar stations.
Japan will also spend 2.2 billion yen to begin acquiring medium-range air-launched cruise missiles able to strike sites in North Korea in a bid to deter any potential attack by Pyongyang, which continues to test ballistic missiles.
As a % of GDP, let's round things up to 1% of GDP, that is where Japan has been for awhile. We spend a bit north of 4% of GDP on defense, but ask our NATO allies to set a goal of 2%.
Japan is as important to the USA as our NATO allies, so let's do a little what-if game. What if Japan spent ~2% of GDP on her military? That would be a budget of ~$91 billion.
Let's assume no economies of scale and that her spending per service is about the same. As this is CDR Salamander, let's just look at her major naval units.
Today, roughly, she has;
Large Deck Helicopter Carriers: 4
Other large amphibious ships: 5
Destroyers/Destroyer Escorts: 42
Mine Warfare Ship: 25
Of course, she has other ships you can review yourself.
Let's assume we could travel back in time to 2001 and Japan decided to slowly up her defense spending 1/10% a year. She would have been at 2% and holding six years ago.
Being optimistic, let's assume that would have resulted in a doubling of the fleet. What kind of Japanese Navy would we have sailing with us in WESTPAC ... even with a modest 2% GDP spending?
Large Deck Helicopter Carriers: 8
Other large amphibious ships: 10
Destroyers/Destroyer Escorts: 84
Mine Warfare Ship: 50
You want a maritime partner you can hold China in with ... or at least keep their attention locally?
There's your maritime partner.
It is time to let the wounds of the wars of our fathers and grandfathers pass in to time. Japan is a good friend, and we should all encourage her steps to take her place as a linchpin to a modern, democratic, and free Western Pacific region.