With concerns rising over North
Korea's nuclear arms program, the Japanese government wants to deploy a missile
defense system designed to protect its cities in the event of an attack. The
plan requires Parliament's approval, and represents a significant shift in Japan's
A North Korean missile could reach central Tokyo in approximately 8.5 minutes,
a fact that has the Japanese increasingly worried. In response to these concerns,
Tokyo is revamping its defense strategy. The centerpiece is a proposal for
a U.S.-designed missile defense shield that would cost about $1 billion annually
over the next four years.
Tokyo is considering a two-stage anti-missile system. At sea, SM-3 missiles would
be launched from Aegis destroyers, to intercept incoming ballistic missiles.
As a second line of defense, advanced Patriot missiles would be stationed on
land, first around Tokyo and eventually throughout the country.
Lance Gatling is an American aerospace consultant in Tokyo, who calls the
plan "Japan's revolution in military affairs." He points out that Japan's basic
military strategy previously was based on old Cold War concerns about a possible
invasion by the former Soviet Union.
"The basis for their military spending is changing," he said. "So, they will
spend less money on conventional defense, which means tanks, fighters that
would attack ground targets, enemy ground targets inside Japan. They are starting
to spend money on missile defense and on the intelligence that will help them
gather information regarding a possible missile attack from outside the country."
There is no question that North Korea's nuclear ambitions are driving the
new defense strategy. Nearly a year ago, U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted
to having a secret nuclear weapons program, in violation of several international
Since then, North Korea has withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty and expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors. It has said it needs the weapons
program to deter an attack from the United States. Washington has repeatedly
denied any intention of an attack.
U.S. officials, working with Japan, China, South Korea and Russia, are demanding
Pyongyang immediately abandon its nuclear programs and comply with its international
The latest multilateral talks in August in Beijing ended without movement
in the dispute.
Some conservative politicians and analysts in Japan worry that, if a conflict
with North Korea erupts, the Stalinist state could strike Japan first. These
fears go back nearly a century, as Japan is still widely hated in North Korea
for its brutality when it colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Seiichi Ogawa, a senior researcher at the National Institute for Defense
Studies and an expert on missiles and nuclear issues, says he supports the
missile shield for Japan.
He says the plan reflects Japan's growing concerns over North Korea. He adds
that, even if Japan does not build the system, North Korea is likely to continue
to threaten it by developing and launching ballistic missiles.
Japanese anxiety over North Korea's missiles goes back to 1998, when Pyongyang
test-fired a ballistic missile over Japan that landed in the ocean, to the
surprise of many defense experts.
Soon after, Tokyo began joint research with Washington on missile defense,
and started work on its own system of spy satellites. It launched two of them
in March. The Defense Ministry's blueprint for a missile shield takes the new
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is working to set the legal foundations
for deploying the system, by lobbying to amend Japan's pacifist Constitution,
which renounces the use of force in settling international conflicts.
But this worries Japan's Asian neighbors, which were victims of Japanese
militarism in the first half of the 20th century. If Japan is to beef up its
military capabilities, then it could set off a new arms race in the region.
But Mr. Gatling, the aerospace consultant, plays down the problem, stressing
that the system being contemplated is strictly defense.
"There is obviously concern among Japanese neighbors of the possibility of
a more active Japan as it looks outside its borders," he said. "I do not think
that this system in and of itself really presages that. I believe it is a natural
evolution of their self-defense posture. The systems are only of utility, if
someone fires a missile at Japan."
Japan's Parliament is expected to vote on the new defense blueprint by the
end of the year.