Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution does not prohibit it from requesting a pre-emptive attack against North Korea’s ballistic missile bases if weapons are targeted at Japan and there is no other way for the country to defend itself, government ministers told a key Diet panel session on Friday.

Shigeru Ishiba, director general of the Defense Agency, also told the House of Representatives Budget Committee that Japan does not currently have the military capability to conduct pre-emptive attacks against a foreign country.

“We will consider the start (of a military attack) if (Pyongyang) expresses an intention to demolish Tokyo and starts fueling its missiles to realize that,” Ishiba told the committee.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, who also attended the session, agreed with Ishiba, citing remarks made in 1959 by then Defense Agency chief Shigejiro Ino that striking missile bases in North Korea is within the legal framework of self-defense.

She added that under the Japan-U.S. security treaty, the United States would deal with such a situation after consultations with Japan because the pact obliges the U.S. to protect Japan should it be attacked by a foreign country.

The Constitution is interpreted as strictly limiting the role of Japan’s military forces to defense and was drawn up to prevent a resurgence of the militarism that swept the nation before and during World War II. There has been a perpetual debate over the definition of self-defense.

The ministers were responding to Yoshinori Suematsu, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, who asked what the government would do in the event North Korea declared it would “turn Tokyo into a sea of fire” and began clear preparations to launch ballistic missiles.

However, at a news conference later in the day, DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada criticized the two ministers for making remarks that identified a specific country, saying it would only serve to heighten tensions with North Korea at a sensitive time and amid ongoing talks over its nuclear program.

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