The National Defense Division of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and others proposed the inclusion of “the capability to attack enemy bases” in the new National Defense Program Guidelines, but a decision on the proposal was put off. For the time being, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) will solely focus on national defense under the Japan-U.S. alliance and rely on the U.S. to attack enemies. The two countries will maintain this division of roles.
The capability to attack enemy bases means the capability to attack an enemy base or facility before it launches missiles targeting Japan. The government maintains that the Constitution permits Japan to possess such a capability, but the administration has made a policy decision not to possess it.
In reviewing the defense guidelines this time, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly emphasized, “In a break from the past, I will strive to beef up Japan’s defense capability truly needed for the protection of the people.” In response to North Korea’s rapid development of missiles and nuclear weapons, there were growing voices in the LDP calling for the possession of the capability to attack enemy bases. However, a source connected with the government disclosed, “As it [incorporating the capability to attack enemy bases into the new defense guidelines] proved too difficult a political challenge, we were unable to move forward.”
On the other hand, the new defense guidelines included “stand-off defense capability,” meaning a long-distance attack from outside the range of an enemy’s weapons. This refers to attacking an enemy who has landed on a remote Japanese island and its naval vessels. Specifically, the stand-off defense capability involves the possession of long-range (900 km) cruise missiles.
In 2017 North Korea fired four ballistic missiles that landed almost simultaneously in the Sea of Japan. Thus the DPRK had demonstrated firing multiple ballistic missiles at once in a “saturation attack.” The Maritime Self-Defense Force will deploy a total of eight Aegis ships by fiscal 2021. The SDF will start operating two “Aegis Ashore” ground-based missile interception systems around fiscal 2025. However, even after their deployment it will remain difficult to respond to a saturation attack.
The capability to attack enemy bases will enable Japan to attack an enemy’s ballistic missile facilities before it can launch missiles. Depending on possible changes in the North Korean situation, discussion on possessing the capability may be reignited.