For eight years, then-Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe had been looking for ways around Japan’s pacifist constitution to bolster the country’s military. In his last full week on the job, he laid the groundwork for a plan to allow preemptive strikes on enemy bases.
Abe’s statement on missile defense on Friday last week leaves a big piece of unfinished business for his top aide and likely successor, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga [Editor’s note: Suga was elected on Wednesday to succeed Abe].
While few expect Suga to share Abe’s zeal for amending the constitution, he is confronted with the same dilemma of how to counter growing threats from China and North Korea — and the same security demands from Japan’s sole ally, the US.
Abe called for alternatives to defend against ballistic missiles, saying that new policies should be decided by the end of the year. He offered vague language on whether that meant strike capability, but added the plan must abide by the country’s exclusively defensive security stance. Abe also questioned whether interception alone would be enough.
Missiles are among Tokyo’s biggest worries as Beijing and Pyongyang rapidly expand stockpiles of advanced rockets designed to evade defense systems and destroy allied bases.
Japan’s response has been muddled, with then-Japanese minister of defense Taro Kono in June scrapping plans to install Lockhead Martin Corp’s Aegis Ashore missile shield in Japan over concerns about costs and safety to the host communities.
“We are considering what policies are possible as an alternative,” Abe said, leaving the decision up to whoever would win control of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Monday’s leadership election. “And we will secure an interception capability that can protect our country from the threat of ballistic missiles.”
One option is to buy weapon systems capable of striking enemy missiles before they are launched. One problem is that this solution might costs more money than Suga wants to spend during a downturn.
It is also more likely to stoke fears that Japan is drifting back toward the militarism that led to World War II.
“He will probably favor a modest approach,” said James Schoff, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “Suga has a lot of challenges to deal with and a broad range of domestic reform priorities that will cause him to be wary of spending too much real and political capital on a military capability that can be applied only in very few situations.”
Suga will also have to contend with growing demands from Washington, whether or not US President Donald Trump overcomes former US vice president Joe Biden to win a second term on Nov. 3.
The US, which after World War II wrote Japan’s constitution that requires it to “forever renounce war,” has increasingly pressed Japan to play a bigger regional role to help counter China’s rise.
While Abe has purchased Lockheed’s F-35 fighter jets and in 2014 reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japan’s “self-defense” forces to come to the aid of an ally under attack, he never mustered enough support to amend the document.
Japan’s latest plan seeks to overcome limits on offensive weapons by arguing that striking an enemy base to prevent an attack would be a defensive move.
The most immediate concern comes from North Korea, which threatened to “sink” Japan and fired two nuclear-capable ballistic missiles over Japan during a flare-up of tensions in 2017.
Since then, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has rolled out a series of smaller solid-fuel rockets that are easier to hide, quicker to deploy and designed to evade US-made interceptors like the Patriot PAC-3.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who both have ongoing territorial disputes with Japan, have poured money into some of the world’s most advanced missiles systems.
In October last year, Xi paraded through Beijing a variety of weapons intended to offset US advantages in any conflict, including the DF-17 missile, which is equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle designed to make warheads almost impossible to intercept.
“Japanese ruling party politicians are worried that the hypersonic glide vehicle, hypersonic cruise missiles or a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles in a formation flying for conventional attacks that are currently developed by China and Russia could become a game changer for the near-future warfare,” said Katsuhisa Furukawa, a security analyst who used to serve on the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea.
Japan’s current missile-defense system relies on upper-atmosphere interception by Aegis-equipped destroyers and lower-altitude missiles being shot down by Patriots.
Scrapping the ground-based Aegis Ashore system could leave a gap in the nation’s missile shield when the destroyers are not in the right place.
Abe in his statement on Friday pointed the need for a more offensive capability.
“Can we really protect the lives of the people and their peaceful existence just by improving our interception capability?” he asked.
Although Japan has the rocket technology to quickly build a ballistic missile force, such a move would be costly. The switch toward offensive weapons could also face opposition at home — including from Suga and the LDP’s pacifist coalition partner Komeito — as well as from China and other countries occupied by Japan during World War II.
“The worst thing Japan could do would be to cut back on missile defense and increase offensive strike instead,” Schoff said. “I don’t think Japan is set up legally or politically to make early and heavy use of strike a viable option and a useful deterrent.”
The Japanese Ministry of Defense took steps toward a greater strike capability in 2017, when it allocated ￥2.2 billion (US$21 million at the current exchange rate) for an air-to-surface Joint Strike Missile (JSM).
The fiscal year 2020 budget allocated ￥13.6 billion more for the cruise missiles, which can be mounted on F-35s. The country is also looking to deploy the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, a longer-range version of the JSM.
To build a credible independent strike capability, Japan would also need to improve its surveillance of potential targets in China and North Korea.
“All in all, the costs could become enormous,” Furukawa said. “Japan does not have the fiscal resources available to cover everything on its own.”
In a Facebook post on Wednesday last week, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯) wrote: “The KMT must fall for Taiwan to improve.’ Allow me to ask the question again: Is this really true?” It matters not how many times Hsu asks the question, my answer will always be the same: “Yes, the KMT must be toppled for Taiwan to improve.” In the lengthy Facebook post, titled “What were those born in the 1980s guilty of?” Hsu harked back to the idealistic aspirations of the 2014 Sunflower movement before heaping opprobrium on the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP)
The scuffle between Chinese embassy staffers in Fiji and a Taiwanese diplomat at a Republic of China (ROC) Double Ten National Day celebration has turned into a public relations opportunity for the government, Beijing and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Although the incident occurred on Oct. 8, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) downplayed it, only for the story to be picked up by the foreign media, forcing the ministry to respond. The public and opposition parties asked why the government had failed to remonstrate more strongly in the first instance. It is still unclear whether the ministry missed a trick
US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, former US vice president Joe Biden, are holding their final debate tonight. In their foreign policy debate, China is sure to be a major issue of contention for the two candidates. Here are several questions the moderator should pose to the candidates: For both: In the first televised US presidential debates in 1960, then-Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and his Republican counterpart, Richard Nixon, were asked whether the US should intervene if communist China attacked Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu. Kennedy said no, unless the main island of Taiwan was also attacked.
For most of us, the colorful, otherworldly marinescapes of coral reefs are as remote as the alien landscapes of the moon. We rarely, if ever, experience these underwater wonderlands for ourselves — we are, after all, air-breathing, terrestrial creatures mostly cocooned in cities. It is easy not to notice the perilous state they are in: We have lost 50 percent of coral reefs in the past 20 years and more than 90 percent are expected to die by 2050, a presentation at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego, California, earlier this year showed. As the oceans heat further and