A Defense Agency panel report says Japan needs the capability to launch a pre-emptive strike against a foreign target, such as a ballistic missile installation, according to sources close to the panel.

The call, a deviation from Japan’s defense-only policy, is expected to fuel debate.

In March 2003, Shigeru Ishiba, then director general of the Defense Agency, told a Diet committee session that it was “worth considering” boosting Japan’s military capabilities so it could attack foreign installations.

But Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rejected the suggestion, saying Japan will stick to a defense-only policy.

The panel to consider Japan’s future defense buildup plan, chaired by Defense Agency chief Yoshinori Ono, has prepared what will serve as a draft in the government’s review of national defense to be completed by year’s end.

The body’s recommendation apparently reflects strong concerns regarding the North Korean missile threat.

The sources said the report suggests Japan install surface-to-surface missiles with a range of several hundred kilometers. But the report says it is not appropriate for Japan to immediately possess the ability to attack enemy bases.

Such capabilities would “reinforce (Japan’s) ability to attack ground targets in an invasion against Japan.”

The government’s basic policy at present is to rely on the United States, under bilateral security treaty, to attack enemies on its behalf in the event of an emergency.

The government holds the view that it is constitutionally permissible for Japan to attack enemy bases, but has opted not to possess weapons for that purpose to avoid being seen as a threat to other countries.

In 1956, the government said Japan could attack another country’s military bases in an act of self-defense if there were no other means to protect itself.

UNSC role opposed

Staff report Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura expressed reluctance Friday to have North Korea’s nuclear ambitions taken up by the United Nations Security Council.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in Washington earlier this week that North Korea’s nuclear standoff should be deliberated in the U.N. Security Council if the North refuses to attend another session of the six-way talks before the Nov. 2 U.S. presidential election.

Armitage also said Washington will consult with Japan and South Korea.

“If we take it up at the Security Council, the issue will spread to other countries” at the council that are not part of the six-party framework, Machimura said.

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