Globalization is already a fact of life in the international-missile and military-armaments “community.”
Put another way, no country’s weapons arsenal is completely homemade; every nation relies on some imports, some more than others.
This was the point made indirectly by two young members of Japan’s House of Councilors recently at a press conference promoting their article in the current issue of a leading political magazine on “Japanese components used in the North Korean Taepodong missile.”
Ichita Yamamoto, 41, and Keichiro Asao, 35, are bringing a new level of transparency to discussion of security affairs. Previously, such debate on North Korea’s missiles was virtually taboo, for a range of political and social reasons, not the least being the complications surrounding Japan’s 600,000-strong Korean minority.
All that changed last Aug. 31, when Pyongyang launched a three-stage rocket, part of which flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean. North Korea said that its rocket was fired to send a satellite into orbit, but Japan maintained that Pyongyang was testing a Taepodong missile.
The incident lifted the lid on a debate in Japan over what to do about the threat from its next-door neighbor. In their article, lawmakers Yamamoto and Asao claim that key parts of both the Taepodong and the North Korean semi-submersible boat used in a raid on South Korea were made in Japan.
For that matter, each of the spy boats was powered by three U.S.-made Mercury marine engines.
The youthfulness of the two lawmakers was countered at the press conference by the fact that they were speaking fluent English, a rarity among Diet members. Both were educated in the United States — Yamamoto at Georgetown University and Asao at Stanford University.
“We’re still too young to be taken seriously by our political colleagues, but we’ll get there,” said Yamamoto, who has held a councilor’s seat for four years.
Asao, a Diet member for only one year, agreed. “We’re trying to approach the problem through strong export-control legislation as a start.”
Asked to respond to the suggestion that the government cut off remittances to the North from Korean residents in Japan, both said it was too politically sensitive a step at this time.
“[But] if North Korea persists in its missile testing, such steps can be weighed,” said Asao.
The pair did not allege that Japanese manufacturers knew their products were ending up in North Korean missiles and other weapons. Many such components are sold on an “off the shelf” basis and do not require documentation.
A Japanese military analyst attending the press conference claimed that Japanese components were used in the U.S. Patriot missiles deployed in the Persian Gulf War.
“Semiconductor chips in sophisticated missiles can come from a variety of sources — the U.S., Japan, South Korea or Taiwan,” he said.
North Koreans can openly buy parts in the electronics bazaar at Tokyo’s Akihabara district and ship them to the North on Pyongyang’s own shipping line, which sails regularly from Niigata Port in the Sea of Japan.
Because Japan has no security law, a variety of sophisticated radar, sonar and other guidance systems can be purchased openly and sent to the North and assembled into completed missiles.
Some of these “backyard missiles,” assembled like radio-controlled model airplanes, have been sold to Iraq, Libya and possibly Pakistan, to earn foreign exchange for the impoverished economy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
There have been reports that a Pyongyang test of a Taepodong-2 missile, with a range of 6,400 to 9,600 km, is imminent. Other reports have suggested that China is asking North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to refrain from raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula by conducting another missile test.
Analysts point out, however, that repeatedly raising tensions, then backing off, has been the North’s policy scenario for nearly 50 years — ever since the Korean War ended in an uneasy truce in 1953.
In a recent policy discussion, Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said, “There are over 180 countries in the world. It is a sad reality that Japan does not have diplomatic ties with only one of them. This concerns all the people of Japan.”
Neighboring North Korea is militarily strong, he pointed out, and flaunts its missiles. He also added, “We want the North to stop doing terrible things, such as firing missiles at us. But if we don’t have any channels of communication, how can we transmit such a message to the North?”
Japan needs to demonstrate deterrence and diplomacy toward North Korea but so far neither seems to be visible.
Will it take a direct hit on Hibiya Park by a yet-to-be-tested Taepodong-4 to stir the Diet into meaningful action on this issue?
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