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Asia's Game of Thrones
Japan Mulls First-Strike Capability Against North Korea

After North Korea’s recent missile test off the Japanese coast, Tokyo is leaving all options on the table as it seeks to upgrade its own security posture. Financial Times:

North Korean missiles now pose a “real threat”, Japan’s government said on Thursday as it stepped up its search for countermeasures, including potentially acquiring the capability for a first strike against Pyongyang’s missile bases. […]

Answering questions in parliament, Tomomi Inada, defence minister, refused to rule out acquiring the capacity for a pre-emptive strike. “I do not rule out any method and we will consider various options, consistent of course with international law and the constitution of our country,” she said. […]

If Japan chooses to acquire such weapons, it has several options: Tokyo could buy Tomahawk cruise missiles, a missile-equipped drone or ground-to-air munitions for its manned F-35 aircraft.

Japan is also actively upgrading its existing anti-ballistic missile defences and considering whether to acquire the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system that has caused the controversy between Beijing and Seoul.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has long faced opposition for for his remilitarization initiative and for stretching the limits of Japan’s pacifist constitution, but the threat from Pyongyang could strengthen his case. As the FT piece notes, there has been little public backlash against new calls for a first-strike capability, and according to the Wall Street Journal, the opposition Democratic Party is keeping an open mind, with one influential lawmaker saying it would be “irresponsible” to maintain the status quo.

Naturally, this is not good news for China, which is adamantly opposed to Japanese remilitarization. China’s bitter diplomatic spat with South Korea over THAAD is a recent reminder of how vociferously China opposes any unfavorable change to the Asian security balance. The prospect of Japan acquiring THAAD, much less a series of offensive capabilities designed to deter North Korea, is sure to raise hackles in Beijing.

Judging by Trump’s antagonistic stance toward China and North Korea, his support for the THAAD deployment in South Korea, and his desire for allies to contribute more to their own security, Trump is likely to welcome Japan’s proposals to beef up its defense. Will Trump’s hawkishness push Beijing into a defensive crouch, or force them to cooperate in reining in Pyongyang? The early signs for cooperation not encouraging, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Asia trip next week might provide a clearer indication of where things are going.

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  • KremlinKryptonite

    The Japanese Navy is the best in Asia, not counting the U.S. Navy of course. The Soryu-class subs and the Atago-class destroyers are potent forces.
    However, the most interesting are the new Izumo-class helicopter carriers. They have a full length flight deck and carry more than a dozen attack helicopters.
    And with some modifications, the Japanese could actually field the F-35 B model…vertical take off !

    • Fat_Man

      If only the F35B ever works and is declared operational.

      • KremlinKryptonite

        Well it certainly will be. The bigger issue is that Japan is buying the standard type A.
        Japan having a carrier-based stealth fighter/bomber would be a pretty big deal strategically and hence geopolitically.
        For Japan to buy type B and for them to make the commitment to harden the decks of these de facto carriers so that they could accommodate the planes would be totally game changing.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Unfortunately it is more likely to be the latter than the former

  • D4x

    Good to know that, east of the International Date Line, over the rainbow, “the opposition Democratic Party is keeping an open mind, with one influential lawmaker saying it would be “irresponsible” to maintain the status quo.”

    More on China’s BorderLand strategy, of which NorK is one core borderland interest “…Kokang is a borderland region whose residents, though citizens of Myanmar, are ethnic-Chinese who speak Mandarin, use the yuan in business transactions and have familial ties across the border in China’s Yunnan province. Two strategic interests explain Beijing’s alleged support for the Northern Alliance, an umbrella group of anti-government armed rebels that includes the MNDAA. First, free transit through Myanmar would open maritime trade routes to parts of China that otherwise require traveling great distances over land to access the Indian Ocean. Second, Beijing wants to make sure the West does not gain a foothold in a country that borders China. …”
    Posted March 9, 2017 at RealClearWorld:

  • rheddles

    Color me skeptical. Nobody attacks NK without putting Seoul at risk. Bad idea if you’re Japan.

    Trump’s strategy of do nothing kinetic to NK but make lots of assistance moves that threaten China as much as NK while targeting every sanction in sight seems right. These articles seem like intelligence agency misinformation to shape the diplomatic battlefield with China.

    Kims won’t last forever, but the THAADs will be tougher to remove.

    • Proverbs1618

      Kims have outlasted a lot of folks. I wish I shared your optimism on them being gone soon.

      • rheddles

        Not optimism on them being gone soon. Just my opinion of who lasts longer, the Kim Dynasty or the United States. So far, we’ve generally done well with a strategy of wait them out. If they want to get kinetic first, we can do that pretty well also. But it’s messier, mostly for others. That’s one of the big lessons of Iraq.

    • f1b0nacc1

      The THAADs are actually not all that big a deal, it is their radar suite (which since it is X-band can see DEEP into China, and thus seriously freaks them out….with some justification I concede) that the Chinese are concerned about. THAAD cannot handle tactical ballistic missiles (they dont’ go high enough), and the 8 launchers aren’t sufficient to do more than inconvenience a large NK salvo of MRBMs or IRBMs (if in fact they can even stop an IRBM, something that they have never done in testing). Ironically, the Aegis Ashore installations (as well as those on ships, and the South Koreans have several of those) are far more effective against the North Korean arsenal, but the THAADs are a bigger concern for the Chinese.

      • rheddles

        I think we’re in violent agreement.

  • Fat_Man

    Does China really want to op[en this can of worms?

    Note to Israel: SoKo and Japan may be interested in becoming customers/investors in David’s Sling and Arrow.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Arrow wouldn’t be too useful to South Korea, but the Japanese would certainly like it. David’s Sling would be somewhat duplicative, as it is a close tactical match to a very late model Aegis Ashore, which the Japanese have several of.

      For China, the real menace of THAAD is its sensor suite (in particular its X-band radar) which lets the US (or South Korea) track targets deep within Chinese territory. This represents a serious threat to them, and thus their response to THAAD is not entirely unreasonable.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Japan already has at least 5 Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense systems (ships deployed since 2010 ) which can be moved to where they are needed. THAAD is a land based system. Japan therefore already has a ballistic missile defense. The addition of THAAD would supplement that defense with greater depth. Being able to take a second or third shot at an incoming missile is of significant defensive value.

  • I would advise North Korea to cease its provocations as soon as possible. Even under restrictions, the Japanese military is still considered the 7th strongest in the entire world:

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