| TOKYO, July 26
TOKYO, July 26 Japan should beef up its
military's ability to deter and counter missile attacks,
including the possible acquisition of the ability to hit enemy
bases, the Defence Ministry said, but officials denied this
would be used for pre-emptive strikes.
The proposal - Japan's latest step away from the constraints
of its pacifist constitution - is part of a review of defence
policy by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, an interim
report on which was released on Friday. The final conclusions of
the review are due by the end of the year.
The hawkish Abe took office in December for a rare second
term, pledging to bolster the military to cope with what Japan
sees as an increasingly threatening security environment
including an assertive China and an unpredictable North Korea.
Given Japan's strained ties with China over disputed isles
and Japan's wartime history, Beijing could react strongly to the
proposals, which come after Abe cemented his grip on power with
a big win in a weekend election for parliament's upper house.
Article 9 of Japan's constitution, drafted by U.S.
occupation forces after the country's defeat in World War Two,
renounces the right to wage war and, if taken literally, rules
out the very notion of a standing army. In reality, Japan's
Self-Defense Forces are one of Asia's strongest militaries.
The Defence Ministry said in the report it was necessary to
comprehensively strengthen "the ability to deter and respond to
ballistic missiles". But in a sign of the sensitivity of the
issue, a ministry official denied that this implied Japan would
make pre-emptive strikes against enemy bases.
"Our country is building up ballistic missile defence ...
but North Korea and other countries are improving their
capabilities," a ministry official told reporters.
"It is necessary to consider whether we should have the
option to strike an enemy's missile launch facilities," he said.
"But we are not at all thinking about initiating attacks on
enemy bases when we are not under attack."
The line between the ability to hit enemy targets and make
pre-emptive strikes is primarily political and philosophical,
and Japanese officials typically avoid the latter term. But
acquiring the capability for pre-emptive strikes against enemy
missile bases would be difficult and costly, experts said.
"Offensive capability can be used for pre-emptive purposes,"
said Narushige Michishita, a professor at the National Graduate
Institute of Policy Studies. "In reality, we will not be able
to. We are just too far away."
STRETCHING THE LIMITS
Japan has for decades chipped away at the restrictions of
Article 9. It has long said it has the right to attack enemy
bases overseas when the intention to attack Japan is evident,
the threat is imminent and there are no other defence options.
But while previous administrations shied away from acquiring
the hardware to do so, Abe's Liberal Democratic Party in June
urged the government to consider acquiring that capability
against missile threats.
Some experts say acquiring more substantial offensive
capability would be a fundamental change for Japan's defence
policies. Others see it as a more evolutionary development.
"It is part of an evolution towards having a more normal
military posture," said Richard Samuels, director of the
MIT-Japan Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"Normal means being able to defend yourself."
Japan already has limited attack capability but being able
to hit mobile missile launchers in North Korea - the most likely
target - would require more attack aircraft and intelligence for
which Japan would probably need to rely on its ally, the United
States, experts said. Hitting missile bases in mainland China
would be an even bigger stretch.
Whether Japan, with a huge public debt, can afford the bill,
is another big question.
Measures to strike enemy missile facilities include attacks
by aircraft or missiles and sending soldiers directly to the
site, the Defence Ministry official said, but he added it was
too early to discuss specific steps.
The ministry also said it would consider buying unmanned
surveillance drones, create a force of Marines to protect remote
islands, such as those disputed with China, and consider beefing
up the ability to transport troops to far-flung isles.
Japan should also review its self-imposed ban on arms
exports that has already been eased to let Japanese contractors
take part in international projects and take new steps if
needed, the ministry said in its report.
Clearer guidelines as to companies may sell and to whom
could help Japanese defence contractors such as Mitsubishi Heavy
Industries Ltd, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd,
and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd seek business overseas.
Support has grown in Japan for a more robust military
because of concern about China, but opposition also remains.
Japan last updated its National Defence Programme Guidelines
in 2010, when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.
Those changes shifted Japan away from a Cold War legacy of
defending northern areas to a more flexible defence against
incursions from the south, the site of the row with China over
tiny, uninhabited islands.
(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Clarence