TOKYO — Eager to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Japan, President Donald Trump on Monday demanded Tokyo to buy more American-made military gear, a complicated proposition for a country bound by a pacifist constitution and budgetary constraints.
“He will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States,” the president said with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe standing next to him, replying to a question about Japan’s missile defense system in light of the growing threat from North Korea.
“The prime minister is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should,” Trump said. “And we make the best military equipment by far.”
Deeply frustrated by America’s huge trade deficit with Japan, Trump sees military gear purchases as providing at least a partial remedy. “It’s a lot of jobs for us, and a lot of safety for Japan,” Trump added.
In fact, Japan has already been spending large sums on U.S. military equipment. The Ministry of Defense decided this summer to procure the Aegis Ashore, a land-based ballistic missile defense system, which costs roughly 80 billion yen ($702 million) per unit. Japan has also purchased F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jets and Osprey transport aircraft.
“We have no room for further increases,” a high-ranking Defense Ministry official said.
While noting that he thinks Japan “will be buying more from the U.S.,” the prime minister also reminded Trump at the press conference that the country is already buying lots of American military equipment.
But some in the Japanese government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party welcomed Trump’s aggressive peddling. They believe Japan would be able to strengthen its deterrence against North Korea by obtaining the Tomahawk, a U.S. land attack missile capable of hitting a target roughly 3,000km away.
In reality, however, possessing such offensive capability would fly in the face of Japan’s pacifist constitution, which restricts the use of forces only for self-defense.
“We cannot avoid a fierce backlash if we decide to purchase Tomahawk or other weapons without discussing” such issues as attacking enemy bases, one Japanese government official said.