WASHINGTON – A senior U.S. Defense Department official on Tuesday appears to have given Washington’s tacit approval to a Liberal Democratic Party proposal that Japan acquire the ability to launch counterstrikes at enemy bases in self-defense, former Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said.
Onodera received the response when briefing the Pentagon official in Washington. The proposal was drafted by Japan’s ruling party as part of a larger effort to boost the nation’s missile defenses. It was submitted on March 30 to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
A key member of the LDP Research Commission on Security, Onodera said the adoption of a counterstrike capability would boost the nation’s deterrence against North Korean aggression.
“Japan and the U.S. military would strike back immediately if North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward Japan, a scenario that would make North Korea hesitant about launching an attack,” he said.
The outcome of the briefing in Washington could stimulate debate in the Abe government about formally adopting the right to launch strikes, which it has so far eschewed despite keeping open such possibilities as measures of self-defense under the war-renouncing Constitution.
The ability to counterstrike is under discussion as a means to deter North Korea’s aggressive development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration was opposed to Japan changing its stance, saying that doing so could provoke China and South Korea.
President Donald Trump’s administration, however, has welcomed Japan’s Self-Defense Forces playing a larger role in regional security.
The State Department declined to comment on the LDP proposal, only saying, “We consult regularly with Japan on our respective forces’ roles, missions and capabilities to ensure our alliance is always ready to carry out its mission to protect Japan and to maintain peace and stability in the region.”
Speaking at a symposium Tuesday in Washington, Onodera said the adoption of a strike capability would be difficult without winning support of countries such as the United States and South Korea.
A higher priority for Japan, he said, would be the introduction of an advanced land-based missile defense system and other state-of-the-art military assets.
The LDP lawmaker said he expects the government to carefully consider any change in position on counterstrikes, which he said would always be “supplementary” to U.S. capabilities.
Citing progress in North Korea’s missile technology, Randall Schriver, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said, “I can understand why Japan would want this capability.”
“If Japan goes down this road, they also understand the need for alliance coordination and the need to explain intent, and what their sort of doctrine would be, and how we can adapt as an alliance,” Schriver said.