Japan needs to rearm with offensive weapons, says PM’s party
North Korea threat leads panel to push for capability of missile attacks on foreign bases
North Korea launches four missiles in an undisclosed location on March 7th: the growing threat from North Korea may lead Japan break with the cautious defence stance the country has maintained since the second World War. Photograph: KRT/AP
Japan should arm itself with long-range offensive weapons, a policy research group in prime minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party said on Wednesday, in a break with the cautious defence stance the country has maintained since the second World War.
The group, led by former defence minister Itsunori Onodera, urged the government to begin considerations immediately to introduce the capacity to attack a foreign base, according to a document distributed to reporters. The necessary budget should be set aside, the group said, citing a “new level of threat” from North Korea. A broader party panel will look at the proposal on Thursday, and it is set to be presented to Mr Abe soon.
“This is an urgent problem, and as a responsible party we have a duty to allay the anxiety of the people of Japan,” LDP deputy Hiroshi Imazu, who heads the party’s defence panel, said.
Hemmed in by a pacifist constitution it adopted after the war, Japan relies heavily on the US “nuclear umbrella” to deter growing regional threats. Successive Japanese administrations since the 1950s have said that the constitution doesn’t preclude the right to attack a foreign base if the country is under imminent threat. The government has never obtained the means to carry out such a strike, partly out of concern it would revive memories of its past aggression in the region.
“What we are talking about in the party is not pre-emptive strikes,” Takeshi Iwaya, a member of the LDP policy research group, said. “If there were a saturation attack – if several missiles were fired at us at the same time – we wouldn’t be able to deal with that using our current missile defence system. So we think we should consider the capacity to strike back and prevent a further attack.”
Mr Abe has shifted Japan’s security posture since taking office in 2012, removing a ban on weapons exports and re-interpreting the pacifist constitution to allow the defence of allies. Another change to Japan’s military stance would probably require a cabinet decision that must be approved by all ministers, including Keiichi Ishii, who hails from Mr Abe’s coalition partner. The Buddhist-backed Komeito party is likely to try to limit any long-distance strike capacity.
“Komeito believes in a peaceful country, an exclusively defensive posture and not possessing offensive weapons,” Kiyohiko Toyama, a Komeito deputy who has been involved in past ruling coalition negotiations over changes to security policy, said. “I’m not saying it won’t happen. But it’s not simple. It impinges on the Japan-US alliance, so we need to have a dialogue with the US.”
Obtaining cruise missiles would be one option for Japan, the LDP group said. While proposals that Japan acquire a long-range strike capability have been made several times in the past, North Korea’s simultaneous launch of four ballistic missiles earlier this month – three of which fell into waters close to Japan – has brought a new sense of urgency.
The group also recommended that Japan consider stepping up its capacity to intercept incoming missiles by introducing new technology such as Terminal High Altitude Area Defence – known as Thaad – or Aegis Ashore defence systems, both made by the US. It urged the government to consider how to tackle missiles that land within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, rather than just its territorial waters, to protect the country’s shipping.
Japan already has a two-stage missile defence system, consisting of ship-borne SM-3 interceptors and ground-based PAC-3 missiles. Both are undergoing upgrades.
Concerns over Japan’s relations with the Trump administration have also played into the discussions, ahead of a meeting between the two countries’ defence and foreign ministers expected next month, Mr Iwaya said. That’s even after US president Donald Trump and defence secretary James Mattis reaffirmed their country’s commitment to defending Japan.
“America is continuing to demand that Nato countries boost their defence spending to 2 per cent” [of gross domestic product], Mr Iwaya said. “We imagine that there will be pressure on Japan to make a bit more effort on defence. Considering that the situation is getting a lot worse, we should make an effort without waiting to be told to do so by the US.”