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A former senior Japanese government official called for caution over the country’s Self-Defense Forces possessing the capability to attack enemy bases.

On top of political hurdles to obtain such a capability, exercising it would be difficult in terms of military maneuvering, Kyoji Yanagisawa, former assistant chief Cabinet secretary in charge of national security and crisis management, said in an interview.

Discussions on whether Japan should obtain the ability have intensified after the government recently decided to scrap its plan to deploy the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system due to technical issues.

Kyoji Yanagisawa | KYODO
Kyoji Yanagisawa | KYODO

Possessing the capability would be “far more difficult than introducing Aegis Ashore,” and its costs would be “astronomical,” Yanagisawa, a defense expert who had served as director at the National Institute for Defense Studies, said, noting that he feels a sense of alarm about the government being quick to initiate such discussions.

He said: “You’d need to know where to attack and beat the enemy’s air defense network and be able to assess how much damage was dealt. If that weren’t enough, a second attack would be needed, and that would be more likely to trigger a counterattack than using interceptor missiles.”

Yanagisawa said an enemy base attack capability would go beyond Japan’s defense-only policy, which he says is intended to give no excuses for enemies to attack.

In fact, Japan has already gone beyond the idea of defense-only policy through its military cooperation with the United States, he said.

“Japan’s government needs to think about how the country can contribute to preventing U.S.-China and U.S.-North Korean wars, as well as how to ease tensions,” Yanagisawa said. People who discuss possessing the capability to attack enemy bases without thinking about such issues are abandoning one of the primary roles of politics, he stressed.

Japan should act as a bridge between the United States and China in facilitating dialogue to ease bilateral tensions, but “nobody is thinking about that,” Yanagisawa said.

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