Is the Abe administration set on beefing up Japan’s defense capabilities, citing the North Korean threat?
One item being planned is the U.S.-made Aegis Ashore missile defense system, which the administration hopes will become operational in fiscal 2023.
It will be deployed in two locations–one in eastern Japan and the other in western Japan–for the stated purpose of defending the entire Japanese archipelago against incoming ballistic missiles, most likely from North Korea.
But tensions on the Korean Peninsula began to ease after the historic U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore earlier this month.
As for North Korean ballistic missiles, the Self-Defense Forces already have a two-tier defense system consisting of SM3 interceptor missiles, which will be fired from Aegis-equipped vessels, and PAC3 surface-to-air missiles.
Is adding the Aegis Ashore really necessary and appropriate?
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera last week visited the candidate deployment sites in Yamaguchi and Akita prefectures and sought understanding. But serious doubts and concerns were raised.
The local communities are worried about the effects of electromagnetic waves generated by radar, and that they could become a target of attack for hosting the Aegis Ashore.
Onodera stressed that North Korea’s threat remains unchanged. But his argument has become tenuous.
Security experts say the level of a threat can be measured by multiplying the enemy’s “capability” by its “intent.”
North Korea is in possession of missiles. But now that Pyongyang appears to be more inclined to dialogue, it is not logical to keep insisting that the threat level has not changed.
The government last week decided to suspend, at least for the time being, evacuation drills for residents against possible North Korean missile attacks.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “The situation where Japan could come under a missile attack at any time clearly no longer exists.”
Such being the case, it makes no sense to proceed with the Aegis Ashore project as if nothing has changed.
The Aegis Ashore costs slightly shy of 100 billion yen ($910.4 million) per unit. The total cost for the proposed two units will be 200 billion yen, which is roughly equivalent to the Japan Coast Guard’s annual budget.
That the government is determined to go along with this extremely expensive project at any cost seems to be due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s persistent demand that Japan buy U.S.-made weapons.
The Abe administration has been riding the tailwind, so to speak, of North Korea’s threat to keep raising the nation’s defense budget.
However, the administration’s true aim is said to be dealing with China.
Assuming the Aegis Ashore deployment is also meant as a means to counter China’s cruise missiles and provide Washington with tracking information on ballistic missiles bound for the U.S. mainland, the total cost should snowball, and the project could strain Japan’s relations with China.
Given a limited budget, the government must improve the nation’s defense capabilities with careful consideration to cost-effectiveness and potential effects on Japan’s diplomacy with its neighbors. It also goes without saying that the whole process must be acceptable to the public.
Now is definitely the time for the government to reconsider the Aegis Ashore project.