The government has begun discussing how the Self-Defense Forces would respond to a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula, government sources said Saturday amid tensions with internationally condemned North Korea.
The National Security Council will examine specific scenarios including an inadvertent clash between North and South Korean forces, a pre-emptive U.S. strike on North Korea, an invasion of South Korea by the North, and Japan being hit by a North Korean missile, the sources said.
While the Defense Ministry and other government offices are already studying potential responses, the NSC, chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will lead the discussions going forward, they said.
North Korea claims its latest ballistic missile test in November confirmed that it is capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to any part of the United States.
The United Nations responded by slapping tougher economic sanctions on the reclusive state that slash its oil supplies and demand the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad. U.S. President Donald Trump has labeled the communist country a “rogue state” and shown readiness to meet force with force.
According to the sources, Japan’s NSC met on Dec. 21 with Abe, his national security adviser Shotaro Yachi, and Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of the SDF Joint Staff, among the attendees.
They agreed to run simulations of war scenarios and discussed how many U.S. troops outside Japan could be supplied as reinforcements. A participant was quoted as warning that North Korea could fire missiles tipped with chemical warheads at Japan.
Through the discussions, the government is looking to work out what the SDF is legally permitted to do in specific scenarios of varying gravity.
For example, should Trump order a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, Pyongyang would be expected to launch a retaliatory attack against U.S. troops in South Korea. If such a situation is viewed as leading to an attack on Japan, the SDF would be able to refuel U.S. aircraft and provide other support.
If the conflict escalates and the application of collective self-defense is justified, Japanese destroyers would be allowed to protect U.S. warships. Should Japan be directly attacked, the prime minister would be authorized to allow the SDF to use armed force.
The discussions will likely come into play during the government’s review of the national defense program next year. It has approved a record ¥5.19 trillion ($46 billion) draft defense budget for fiscal 2018 starting April, with plans to acquire a new missile defense system.