The national defense and security divisions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have proposed that the government consider letting the Self-Defense Forces attack military bases in enemy territory. The two LDP divisions made the proposal in view of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile development programs.
But allowing the SDF to possess such capabilities carries the danger of increasing the arms race in Northeast Asia and destabilizing the security situation surrounding Japan. The LDP should refrain from giving these capabilities to the SDF.
In a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday, the chiefs of the LDP’s two divisions said that their proposal should be reflected when the government revises the outline of its defense program toward the end of this year. The divisions also want the SDF to create units that have similar functions to that of the U.S. Marines, as well as to introduce MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, so that defense of remote islands will be strengthened.
They also call for improving the operational structure of SDF units for missile defense, including Aegis ships equipped with the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3), a ship-based missile system to intercept short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
The traditional principle of Japan’s SDF posture is defense-only defense. The SDF is supposed to hit back only after an attack is carried out on Japan. The SDF’s equipment and scope of operation should be limited to the minimum necessary to defend Japan.
Under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty setup, the SDF is supposed to concentrate on defensive functions while the U.S. is supposed to carry out offensive functions once an emergency situation takes place. It needs to be recognized that the nation’s defense-oriented posture, which is characterized by self-restraint, has gained Japan the trust of other countries in Northeast Asia and has contributed to the stabilization of the region’s security situation.
The proposal for giving the SDF the capability to attack enemy bases will undermine this defense principle, thus causing neighboring countries to harbor suspicions about Japan’s intentions. This will destabilize the regional security situation.
Once the SDF develops such capabilities, it may even cause suspicion among Japan’s neighbors that Japan may carry out pre-emptive attacks on potential enemies. Potential enemies could even be tempted to carry out an attack on Japan before Japan carries out a pre-emptive attack on them.
It is clear that the LDP’s proposal would heighten military tension in Northeast Asia and trigger an arms races.
It is reported that North Korea stores its missiles in hardened underground bases. Therefore, merely equipping the SDF with missiles that have land-attack capabilities would not be enough. Japan would be forced to spend a large amount of money to build missiles capable of destroying hardened underground bunkers.
The LDP’s two divisions also have overlooked a major factor: how the U.S. will view their proposal. It’s possible that Washington will oppose the idea of the SDF having the capabilities to attack enemy bases on the grounds that it could cause problems in the Japan-U.S. security relationship.
The LDP should drop proposals that will unnecessarily increase tension in the region. Instead, it should embrace an approach that strives to solve international issues by using smart diplomacy.