The Japanese government has begun discussing how the Self-Defense Forces would respond to a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula, government sources said Saturday, as North Korea continues its weapons program despite international condemnation.
The National Security Council will examine specific scenarios such as an inadvertent clash between North and South Korean forces, a U.S. pre-emptive strike on the North, an invasion of South Korea by the North, and a North Korean missile landing on Japanese soil, the sources said.
While Japan’s Defense Ministry and other government offices are already studying possible responses by the SDF to such crises, the NSC, chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will lead discussions going forward, they said.
North Korea has continued with ballistic missile tests, claiming with the latest one in November that it is now capable of hitting anywhere in the United States with a nuclear warhead.
The United Nations responded by slapping the reclusive state with tougher economic sanctions that further limit its supply of oil and demanding the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad. U.S. President Donald Trump has labeled the country a “rogue state” and shown readiness to meet force with force.
According to the sources, Japan’s NSC met on Dec. 21 with Abe, his national security adviser Shotaro Yachi, and Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the SDFs’ Joint Staff, among the attendees.
They agreed to run simulations of “wartime” scenarios and discussed how many U.S. troops stationed outside of Japan could arrive as reinforcements. A participant was quoted as warning that North Korea could fire a ballistic missile tipped with a chemical warhead at Japan.
Through the discussions, the government is looking to work out what the SDF is legally permitted to do in specific scenarios of varying gravity.
For example, should Trump order a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, Pyongyang would be expected to launch a retaliatory attack against U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. If such a situation is deemed to lead to an attack on Japan, the SDF would be able to refuel U.S. aircraft and provide other support.
If the conflict escalates and the application of “collective self-defense” is justified, Japanese destroyers would be allowed to protect U.S. warships. Should Japan be directly attacked, the prime minister would be authorized to allow the SDF to use armed force.
The discussions will likely come into play as the government plans to review national defense programs in 2018. It has approved a record 5.19 trillion yen ($46 billion) draft defense budget for the fiscal year starting April, with plans to acquire a new missile defense system.