Japan Considers Preemptive Strikes Against North Korea

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Japan is reportedly considering developing the ability to preemptively strike North Korea.

North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan Monday, and three came within 200 miles of Japanese territory. After the test, Pyongyang announced that it was drilling to fire on American military bases in Japan. Open source intelligence analysis suggests that the launch was a simulated attack on U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

Japan is protected by Aegis destroyers and land-based Patriot missile defense systems, and the installation of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile shield in South Korea is expected to further improve Japan’s defense. The North’s latest provocations, however, have Japan considering that it might be better to aim for the archer than the arrows, Reuters reports. As things stand, more than three missiles fired simultaneously at Japan might be enough to overwhelm Japan’s present defenses.

Japanese military capabilities are restricted, for the most part, to self-defense purposes. The country has avoided the pursuit of long-range, power-projection weaponry that would give it the ability to launch an assault on another state.

In the aftermath of North Korea’s latest missile launch, the Japanese prime minister said that North Korea’s behavior “is a clear challenge to the region and the international community,” adding that the “threat has entered a new phase.”

“Technology has advanced and the nature of conflict has changed,”  Itsunori Onodera, a former defense minister in charge of a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) committee exploring options to counter North Korean threats, said Wednesday. “If bombers attacked us or warships bombarded us, we would fire back. Striking a country lobbing missiles at us is no different.”

While previous administrations have stated that Japan has the right to fire on an enemy if an attack on Japan appears imminent, the ruling LDP, under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is determined to take it a step further and acquire the ability.

“It is time we acquired the capability,” Hiroshi Imazu, the chairman of the LDP’s policy council on security, explained, “I don’t know whether that would be with ballistic missiles, cruise missiles or even the F-35 (fighter bomber), but without a deterrence North Korea will see us as weak.”

Inside sources told Reuters that Japan has “already done the ground work on how we could acquire a strike capability.”

Abe has been actively attempting to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution in recent years to give Japanese self-defense forces a larger operational scope. For instance, Japanese troops can now come to the aid of allied forces in the event that they come under attack from an enemy force. The acquisition of armaments that would allow China to launch a preemptive strike against another country would be a big step for Japan though.

China has been highly critical of Japanese militarization, as well as U.S. efforts to boost regional defense through the application of force and the installation of new missile shields.

“China has missiles that can hit Japan, so any complaints it may have are not likely to garner much sympathy in the international community,” Onodera said in response.

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