Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe has denied he openly advocated a pre-emptive strike on North Korea if Pyongyang appeared poised to attack.
Those comments, which followed North Korea’s test-launching of seven ballistic missiles that fell into the Sea of Japan, led to media reports worldwide that the hawkish Abe, a diplomatic hardliner, was advocating a pre-emptive strike.
One senior government official claimed Thursday that when Abe made the comment, he was thinking of a scenario in which several missiles had already been fired at Japan.
“That’s different from the U.S. pre-emptive attack policy” of the Bush administration’s National Security Strategy, which states the government can launch pre-emptive strikes, the official reckoned.
Abe said there is an official government position on dealing with an attack from a foreign missile base.
He did not elaborate, but said, “We have to have deeper debate on the issue” of the Constitution’s ban on using force to settle international disputes, and its limits on Japan having only a self-defense capability.
In 2003, then Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba told the House of Representatives it was the agency’s position that if a country is seen preparing a ballistic missile launch and Japan is clearly the target, this could be reckoned as an attack in progress.
Japan would then have the option to strike the base first, because, for example, if North Korea fired a ballistic missile, it could reach Japan in about 10 minutes.
Senior government officials said that determining whether a launch is being readied is extremely hard because, for example, North Korea’s Scud and Rodong missiles are on mobile launchers for concealment and quick deployment.
The government also must be absolutely certain of an imminent attack, the officials said, as the Constitution stipulates that it can only take military action in self-defense.
“In reality, it would be very difficult to determine if (a missile) has been launched,” Abe also told the Wednesday news conference, adding that the chances are high that any strike by Japan would only occur after it has been hit.
Tokyo military analyst Kazuhisa Ogawa, echoing some Defense Agency views, said there are few merits to having the military capability to hit North Korean missiles, including Tomahawk cruise missiles and air tankers to support attack aircraft for long range missions.
Instead, Japan should rely on U.S. protection and its deterrent threat under the bilateral security treaty, Ogawa said.
“If Japan has the capability to strike an enemy base and actually does, it could trigger a war,” he reckoned.
If Japan plans to hit another country, it would have to gird against the consequences by having a full-scale war strategy and the capability to beat its enemy, Ogawa said.
That option, he figured, is unrealistic. It is “more effective” for Japan to rely on the U.S. for protection because of the costs and risks of a military buildup, which would be a cause for concern in other parts of Asia.
“It is often pointed out that (North Korea’s) 200 Rodong missiles are targeted at Japan,” Ogawa said. “But only the seven U.S. Aegis destroyers based in Yokosuka (Kanagawa Prefecture) can launch more than 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles, which have a range of 1,300 km.”
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