JAPAN'S DECISION TO ABANDON, if only by a tiny fraction, its policy of limiting its defense budget to less than 1 percent of the gross national product is not likely to send tremors of alarm around the globe. Its new approach, a five-year defense budget that calls for an annual amount a few hundredths of a percent above that former ceiling, can hardly be called a switch to runaway militarism. But a restraint on defense spending has been lifted, and expenditures in that area have a way of bursting through the fragile limits of a government budget.

There is another reason for wishing the old ceiling had been kept. The lesson of Japan in the years since World War II has been that, given the chance, a country can do far better for itself by industrial production and trade than it can by military spending. If the economy falters, so that the defense budget no longer could be held to 1 percent of GNP, it would be better to bolster the non-military economy or trim military expenditures.It is significant that some Japanese government officials believe that the minuscule increase in defense spending is not at all adequate. They ask how Japan, with a standing army of 160,000, could defend itself against Communist China, with three million. If that thinking is accepted, Japan's defense budget had better be set with the sky the limit.

Such a policy would be a tragic mistake, opening the way for a widened arms race and deepening fear and hostility. Fortunately, the government itself has expressed its commitment to Japan's "peace constitution" and its mandate of arming exclusively for defense.

Please consider registering in order to access the full article.