With North Korea recently test firing a missile over northern Japan, Tokyo officials have been forced to look critically on its long tradition of pacifism and think along lines of national defense with limited pre-emptive strike capabilities as well as buying some additional missiles. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the government thought of developing a pre-emptive strike policy but because of the lack of any threats, several domestic government scandals took center stage. However, the debate has resurfaced after North Korea's missile firing on Tuesday. The debate was also published in the liberal-leaning Mainichi newspaper on Wednesday.
The ruling party's hardliners are all for revamping the country's military plans but the moderate security experts simply wish to consider changes. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described the missile firing as an 'unprecedented, grave and serious threat' and the new defense minister Itsunori Onodera called for upgrading of country's missiles since he was confident of more future provocations. Assuming the position for the second time after the Cabinet shakeup by Abe, Onodera had pushed for a military upgrade due to 'a new level of threat' from North Korea in March itself. In August he feels that Japan should acquire the capability of striking North Korean military bases first.
Presently, Japan has a two-step missile defense system with Aegis destroyers with Standard Missile-3 interceptors capable of shooting missiles in mid-flight. They are deployed in the Sea of Japan. If this fails, they have as a second option, an anti-ballistic missile capability with surface-to-air PAC-3s. These can easily intercept any projectiles from within a 12-mile range. But according to experts, none of these can tackle missiles on a high-lofted trajectory or ones with several war heads in case the country faces simultaneous attacks.
With pre-emptive strike capability, Japan would develop cruise missiles ready for firing from Aegis destroyers or other fighter jets toward enemy missiles. They would also be able to intercept any missile fired from a North Korean launch site long before it reaches Japan. However, planning for this so-called 'strike-back' option might upset China which already views Japan as a potential threat. However, the new thinking became official on Thursday with the Defense Ministry announcing a record budget of 5.26 trillion yen ($48 billion) for up gradation of the military and its missile defense system. This increase is perceived by many as a piece of broader strategy for future aggressive stance in all Asia-Pacific and global affairs. The government is now re-interpreting the Constitution to allow Japan to help its allies as well in scenarios of any attack.
However, according to polls, the majority still oppose the development of the pre-emptive strike capability in Japan. Tetsuo Kotani, a senior research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs feels Prime Minister Abe is hesitant on discussing pre-emptive strikes, maybe because of his declining approval ratings. He forecasted that 'Public debate of pre-emptive strikes may slow down.'