Two North Korean spy boats disguised as trawlers recently intruded deep into Japanese territorial waters in the Sea of Japan. This was the second incident to have heightened tension between Tokyo and Pyongyang since last August, when a Taepodong ballistic missile test-fired by North Korea flew over northern Japan and fell into the Pacific.

The government filed a formal protest with Pyongyang after determining that the vessels were North Korean spy boats, but Pyongyang said it had nothing to do with the incident. The boats evaded pursuing Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers and fled to Chongchin port in northern North Korea. A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said in an official statement that Japan is making a fuss over the incident in a conspiracy to expedite Diet passage of the legislative package for implementing the revised guidelines for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation.

Through activities of this kind, North Korea is effectively encouraging Japan’s defense buildup.

It is unclear whether the spy boats were trying to gather information or trying to send spies into Japan. Whatever their mission was, Japanese were shocked both by the nation’s vulnerability to surprise intrusions by unidentified ships and by the lack of legal measures to deal with them.

The mystery ships defied the first warning shots fired by Maritime Safety Agency patrol boats and fled at high speed. MSDF destroyers then fired 25 more warning shots with their 5 inch guns and MSDF P-3C antisubmarine aircraft dropped 12 150-kg warning bombs after receiving a Cabinet order to stop and inspect the boats — the first such order issued to the SDF in its 45-year history. Nevertheless, the rogue boats escaped.

In this type of patrol operation, current laws allow MSDF ships to use their weapons in self-defense only when they are attacked. Otherwise, the ships are not even permitted to fire on unidentified boats’ rudders to immobilize them. Foreign spy-boat crews can safely ignore Japanese orders to halt. We have to urgently examine the existing legal restrictions on the SDF’s use of weapons.

Another question involves a proposal to define under SDF laws patrol operations to deal with possible peacetime intrusions into Japanese territorial waters or land space, short of the SDF’s mobilization in an emergency. There is concern, for example, that foreign agents could infiltrate a coastal nuclear-power plant.

Defense Agency chief Hosei Norota said recently that the proposal was worth considering, adding that he also intended to push legislative action for dealing with national emergencies stemming from foreign attacks on Japan.

There are growing calls for national emergency-related legislation in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and in the business community. But Diet action over the proposed legislation is likely to be delayed until after the next Diet session. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka, the key man in Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s Cabinet, is giving top priority to Diet passage in the current session of the defense guidelines-related legislation, fearing possible trouble with the opposition forces on the proposed bills.

There is no doubt that adequate peacetime defense power will serve as an effective deterrent. North Korea says that Japan is using the spy-boat incident as an excuse for expediting Diet passage of the guidelines-related legislation, but the incident not only helped improve the prospects for Diet passage of the legislation but effectively provided a strong justification for Japan’s defense buildup.

North Korean authorities had presumably anticipated the strong shock waves generated by the firing of the Taepodong missile last August, but it is doubtful whether they had expected it to strengthen Japan’s resolve on defense issues.

The three-stage Taepodong missile reportedly has the power of an intercontinental ballistic missile. In addition, North Korea has reportedly deployed the Rodong medium-range ballistic missile, which is capable of hitting targets in wide areas of Japan.

The Taepodong launch has stirred calls in the government and the LDP for Japan to launch information-gathering satellites to deal with military threats from North Korea. The government has appropriated 11.3 billion yen for the project under the fiscal 1999 budget and plans to put four such satellites into orbit by 2002.

Meanwhile, Japan and the United States have agreed to conduct joint technological research on the theater missile defense system. Washington is moving to deploy the system in 2007, three years ahead of the original schedule, provoking protests in China and Russia.

The most important element in security policy is the people’s will to fight violations of the nation’s sovereignty. In the spy-boat incident, Japan sent a strong message to the international community expressing its determination to resist infringements of its sovereignty. Japan must also continue protesting violations of its sovereignty stemming from the alleged abductions of a number of Japanese by North Korean agents.

To protect its sovereignty, Japan needs an adequate defense system. However, the nearly 50-year-old Japanese defense system, based on the SDF and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, is far from adequate. Japan must first strengthen its defense system and then take measures to promote dialogue and trust with foreign countries in order to prevent military provocations. But it is difficult to create an international environment conducive to peace.

William Perry, Washington’s policy coordinator on North Korea and former defense secretary, recently proposed that Japan, the U.S. and South Korea coordinate with one another in working out a comprehensive approach to the threat posed by North Korea. In a recent meeting, Obuchi and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung agreed on a joint policy of restraint toward and dialogue with Pyongyang.

In a policy speech to the Diet in January, Obuchi said that Japan is prepared to improve relations with North Korea if the latter shows a more conciliatory attitude. North Korea has not responded to Obuchi’s offer, but Japan should send a political message expressing its willingness to promote dialogue with Pyongyang in the wake of the two incidents that have heightened tension in the countries’ bilateral relations.

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