Proposal to target enemy bases raises many issues for SDF, government


Developing the capability to strike enemy bases appears a difficult challenge for Japan, in view of the need to be equipped properly and the cautious attitude of the United States, the likely supplier of the equipment needed, analysts say.

Last month, a study group in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party urged the government to promptly consider the possibility of acquiring the capability to hit enemy missile bases if Japan comes under attack, stressing the growing threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

Asked in the House of Councilors on March 31 whether the government plans to look at acquiring such a capability, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “Our country should always consider a range of issues from the standpoint of what it should do,” but added: “We have no plans to possess equipment aimed at striking enemy bases.”

In role-sharing under the Japan-U.S. security alliance, the U.S. military undertakes offensive tasks, while the role of the Self-Defense Forces is exclusively defensive.

The government’s position is that Japan is allowed to strike an enemy base within the scope of self-defense authorized under the pacifist Article 9 of the Constitution. In remarks to the Diet in 1956, then-Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama said, “It is inconceivable that the idea of the Constitution is that we should be resigned to self-destruction without taking action.”

But the government has stopped short of full discussions on acquiring the capability to strike enemy bases supposedly due to concern this may deviate from the nation’s strictly defensive security policy, which was recently circumvented to legalize the use of collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under armed attack.

The government assumes that three sets of equipment would be used in an attack on an enemy base — submarine- or land-based ballistic missiles, precision-guided cruise missiles and aircraft that can attack enemy bases from close range.

The SDF does not have enough of any of these items and needs to procure unmanned reconnaissance aircraft from the United States.

The lack of equipment is not the only constraint.

The United States, from which Japan would need to procure the equipment, is “cautious” about is key Asian ally developing the capability to strike enemy bases, a senior official of Japan’s Defense Ministry said.

“The United States believes that the possession of attack capability by Japan could set off an arms race in East Asia,” the official said.

The LDP proposal calls for the capability to carry out “counterattacks” against enemy bases, respecting Japan’s exclusively defensive security policy.

But it would be difficult to judge whether a specific act amounted to an armed attack on Japan. A pre-emptive strike by Japan would violate war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

Opposition parties are stepping up their criticism of the proposal.

“This is an attempt to break the defense-only policy and acquire the capability to invade another country. It can never be permissible,” Satoshi Inoue of the Japanese Communist Party told the Upper House on March 31.