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Editorial: Japan must not stray from defense-only policy via proposal on missile threat

  • August 10, 2020
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has compiled a proposal urging the Japanese government to boost deterrence against the threat of missile attacks.


The proposal includes a fresh request that Japan acquire the ability to “defeat” ballistic missiles even in an enemy’s own territory. Legislators avoided using the phrase “ability to attack enemy bases,” but the proposal in effect urges Japan to gain the capability to do just that.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe struck a positive note on the suggestion, saying he would “firmly present a new direction and quickly put it into practice.” But there are deep reservations that if Japan were to have the ability to strike enemy bases, this would deviate from its defense-only policy. There are also doubts about the viability and cost-effectiveness of such a move.


Under the policy of exclusive defense and the Japan-U.S. security treaty, Japan has undertaken the role of providing the “shield” by devoting itself to defense, while the U.S. has provided the “spear” with its strike capabilities. As a result, the Japanese government has to date maintained that it is not considering equipping the country to attack enemy bases, and it has refrained from acquiring any such hardware.


When attacking, it is necessary to monitor the target continually. The attack must be able to penetrate the enemy’s air defense network, and the strike must be accurate. Overturning Japan’s conventional policy to equip the nation to do this would take time and incur huge costs.


It is extremely difficult to ascertain the movements of mobile missile launchers and submarines to detect signs of an imminent launch. If Japan mistakenly determines that an opponent has commenced an attack, then it could end up launching a preemptive strike in violation of international law.


Having the ability to strike enemy bases will put surrounding countries on their guard and could create regional tension.


It is true that successive administrations in Japan have interpreted strikes on the missile bases of opponents as lying within the scope of self-defense if there are no other ways to defend the country against an enemy attack. But though legally logical, this is unreasonable in practical terms.


The latest discussions on possessing the ability to take out ballistic missiles began only after Japan dropped plans to deploy the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system. The LDP’s proposal also requests the swift presentation of a policy to replace Aegis Ashore, and seeks collaboration with the U.S. military’s Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense system.


Japan’s finances have been strained by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Amid such circumstances, how can it boost deterrence? Rather than rushing to acquire the ability to strike enemy bases, which could result in fundamental changes to the nation’s defense policy, wide-ranging discussion and consideration of the relevant issues is needed.

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