A ruling Liberal Democratic Party security policy panel urged the government Wednesday to let Japan directly strike North Korean missile bases in the event Pyongyang stages a ballistic missile attack on the country.
Specifically, the panel urged the government to procure long-range cruise missiles capable of striking North Korean sites.
Panel members emphasized that Japan should only use such long-range missiles after the North fires a ballistic missile against Japan, given the war-renouncing Constitution that limits the use of force by Tokyo strictly to self-defense.
Still, if the proposal is ever adopted by the government, it would mark a significant departure from Japan’s traditional defense posture, which has focused solely on the defense of its territory.
Former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, a key member of the panel, said Pyongyang’s ballistic missile advancements and spate of recent test-firings into the Sea of Japan had prompted the body to make the “urgent proposal.”
Japan currently has a two-layer missile-defense system, consisting of missile interceptors launched from Aegis destroyers and ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 systems.
The two-layer system would first be used to destroy any incoming ballistic missiles from the North, Onodera said during a press briefing at the LDP’s head office in Tokyo on Wednesday. However, Japan needs to bolster its capabilities to destroy missile bases in the North in order to prevent a second or third wave of attacks, he argued.
Over a number of years, hawkish LDP lawmakers have repeatedly called on the government to procure powerful weapons that can directly strike North Korean missile bases, including long-range fighter jets and Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from Aegis destroyers.
So far, however, top government officials have remained cautious on these proposals.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a Diet session last month that currently Tokyo has no plans to procure such arms although he said he would not rule out studies on the option.
Some experts have argued that knocking out the North’s ability to strike Japan with missiles is nearly impossible since Pyongyang is believed to have already deployed as many as 200 Nodong ballistic missiles and dozens of mobile launchers that can easily be moved and hidden. The Nodong, one of the North’s go-to missiles, can strike most of Japan.
Still, possessing weapons that can directly strike the North would be a rational option for Japan because it would raise the bar for Pyongyang when considering an attack on Japan, said Narushige Michishita, professor of international relations at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
“North Korea is now trying to develop ballistic missiles that can reach the U.S.,” Michishita said. “If that goal is achieved, the United States would shift its priority to destroying missiles flying toward the U.S., and the defense of Japan would become a lower priority.”
In that sense, he said, it would only be natural for Japan to boost its own defensive capabilities against the North, including one that would allow it to destroy the North’s missile sites.