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     May 30, 2009
Pyongyang shakes up pacifist Japan
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - An increasingly belligerent North Korea is reawaking hawkish sentiments in Japan, still one of the world's most powerful nations and equipped with ultra-modern weaponry.

Prompted by Pyongyang's recent provocations - including an underground nuclear test, short-range missile launches and a long-range missile test - normally pacifist Japan is considering acquiring the capability to make pre-emptive strikes to destroy enemy bases, such as those in North Korea.

More than a few government officials and lawmakers have reservations about making the leap, as it would be a huge departure from Japan's exclusively defense-oriented, post-World War II policy. The strong pacifism enshrined in the United Stated-imposed "peace constitution" would be a thing of the past.

The Japanese government, led by the ruling Liberal Democratic


Party (LDP), is applying the finishing touches to plans that would enable the Japanese military to to carry out pre-emptive strikes against enemy states as part of the new National Defense Program Guidelines for fiscal years 2010 to 2014, to be compiled by the end of this year.

The 12-page summary of proposals made by a subcommittee of the LDP's defense policy-making panel on May 26 argue that Japan could use sea-launched cruise missiles in pre-emptive strikes against a hostile nation's missile sites, having first detected launch preparations in that enemy state with surveillance satellites. The proposals are expected to be officially finalized on June 3.

Japan would not be forced to "just sit and wait for its own death", read the document obtained by Asia Times Online. Such measures would have to remain "within the scope of Japan's defense-only policy," it continued, stressing that the pre-emptive strikes could be used to prevent an imminent attack.

In response to a lawmaker's question as to whether Japan has right to launch pre-emptive strikes against missile sites after detecting launch preparations in an enemy state with a spy satellite, Prime Minister Taro Aso said: "As long as it is evident that there are no other measures, striking the enemy's missile bases is guaranteed under the Constitution. It falls within the scope of self-defense. It's different from pre-emptive attacks."

Aso pointed out that the right of self-defense is usually defined as the right to exercise certain forces for self-defense against imminent or real unlawful armed attacks. He stressed that the Japanese government has maintained this view as a basic standpoint.

Aso's remarks suggest that Japan's more assertive stance against North Korea would not require changes to Japan's pacifist constitution. He added, "... the Self-Defense Force [SDF] is unequipped to strike enemy bases" given its current capabilities.

"The nation's right of self-defense is a natural right, and the individual right of self-defense is certainly guaranteed under the Constitution," Japanese military analyst Toshiyuki Shikata told Asia Times Online. "But Japan requires some adjustment with the United States, or Japan's military ally."

Meanwhile, North Korea's Rodong Daily News on Friday carried a commentary branding Aso's and other leaders' recent remarks as revealing the bellicose design of Japan as it seeks to ignite a war of aggression with North Korea. Pyongyang vowed to "wipe out all Japanese militaristic invaders by launching merciless retaliatory attacks" on ground, sea and air assaults, the Rodong Daily News editorial boasted.

The LDP subcommittee's proposals also include changing the government's current interpretation of the Constitution which denies Japan the right to collective defense, preventing the SDF from protecting US warships in joint operations or from intercepting long-range ballistic missiles aimed at US targets.

The proposals also include developing an early warning satellite system to detect the launch of ballistic missiles, for which Japan currently relies on the US. Another proposal is to appoint an SDF officer to the post of secretary to the prime minister. This position has been avoided in the post-World War II period in order to prevent a the return of an unchecked military establishment.

Among other proposals is a bid to review Japan's so-called three principles of banning the export of weapons. Currently, the only exception is for Japanese companies to provide weapons to the US created through joint development projects. This applies solely to the ballistic missile defense (BMD) initiative. The revision of the three principles would allow Japan to export weapons to other nations.

The proposals also suggest establishing a basic law on national security and initiating a Japanese version of the US's National Security Council.

Satoru Miyamoto, research fellow in North Korean military affairs at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, told Asia Times Online on Friday, that the recent argument by the LDP and Aso was "nothing more than words on paper".

"Even if Japan succeeds in attacking enemy bases, it cannot defend itself from counterattacks," Miyamoto said. "Japan does not have such military capabilities. It's quite easy to start a war, but it's very difficult to end it.”

Kosuke Takahashi, a former staff writer at the Asahi Shimbun, is a freelance correspondent based in Tokyo. He can be contacted at letters@kosuke.net.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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