The government has started to compile the next Medium-Term Defense Program (FY2019–23), and it looks like it will become more likely that Japan will gain the capability to attack enemy bases. The call to build up missile defense as a countermeasure to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development frequently appears in the press, but a former defense minister has emphasized the need for Japan to possess the capability to attack enemy bases, saying, “There are limits to building up preparedness to intercept missiles, and budget is lacking.”
The current Medium-Term Defense Program was formulated in FY2013. The security legislation to allow the limited exercise of the right to collective self-defense has been enacted since that time so the defense program and the law are not in sync. Past administrations have designated attacking enemy bases as being within the scope of the right of independent self-defense. Out of consideration for criticism that attack capabilities would deviate from Japan’s exclusively defense-oriented policy, Japan in fact does not possess such means.
Past U.S. administrations have warned that possession of the ability to attack enemy bases would signify “Japan’s independence [from the U.S.].” A source related to the Ministry of Defense says, however, “U.S. President Trump prioritizes business, and I don’t think the U.S. would oppose Japan’s possession of the capability to attack enemy bases provided Japan purchased the equipment from the U.S.” Another former defense minister says that “Japan needs the capability to attack enemy bases in preparation for the day that the Trump administration favors an ‘America First’ approach even in relation to security.” It looks like this will be a key political matter going forward.