2003 April 17 Thursday
Japan Debates Patriot Missile Defense Deployment Against North Korea

The Japanese military want to purchase the latest generation of the Patriot missile defense system.

After the US "successfully tested" the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile system in the war against Iraq, the Japanese military is now urging the government to order the PAC-3 system if Japan wants to shoot down missiles without US help.

Hawkish Japanese Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba makes clear that he sees North Korean missiles as aimed chiefly at Japan.

"North Korea's missiles will not be launched against China," the official, Shigeru Ishiba, said in an interview. "They won't be launched against Russia. They won't be launched against South Korea, because it's too close. They can't reach the United States

Other Japanese politicians are talking up missile defense against North Korea.

In a mid-February meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's National Defense Division, Takemasa Moriya, who heads the Defense Agency's Defense Policy Bureau, played up the effectiveness of the upgraded Patriot (PAC-3) surface-to-air missile. Responding to questions about Japan's own missile-defense measures, Moriya said, ``U.S. officials have told us the PAC-3 can shoot down a Nodong (medium-range ballistic missile). We consider it an effective (air defense) system.''

While Ishiba appears to be fairly supportive of missile defense he cautions that the success of the previous generation of Patriot missiles in the first Gulf War was exaggerated.

"What is judged as success?" he questioned. "A variety of judgment exists (concerning the effectiveness of PAC-2) after the last Gulf War. Some said a lot of damage had been caused by fragments (of enemy missile) that had fallen out after they were intercepted at the terminal phase, while others said even limited success was meaningful.

The biggest factor holding back the wider deployment of missile defenses is the widespread doubts as to whether any missile defense systems work. It will be very important to find out whether the PAC-3 Patriot missiles used in Gulf War II really worked as well as initial reports have claimed.

Robyn Lim argues for Patriot missile deployments to protect American bases in Japan.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, fearing that he is next on U.S. President George W. Bush's list for "regime change," is openly threatening Japan with his Nodong missiles. Yet Japan chooses to remain naked to this threat. Why doesn't it ask for PAC-3 (Patriot) missiles to be deployed by U.S. forces in Japan?

At a foriegn policy forum held in Japan right after the Iraq war started the worries of Japanese national security and foriegn policy thinkers revolve around fear of North Korea and concern about American ability to deter a North Korean attack and stop North Korean nuclear weapons development.

Okamoto: Prime Minister (Junichiro) Koizumi's administration's policy toward North Korea has been resolute thus far.

In the event that North Korea acquires a nuclear capability, the only path Japan can take is to rely on U.S. deterrence, since Japan cannot provide for its own defense. Depending on the outcome of the war in Iraq and the anti-American nationalism brewing in South Korea, the United States may have no recourse but to withdraw its troops from Asia.

To avoid the prospect of facing North Korea alone, Japanese diplomacy must strive to ensure South Korea and the United States keep reading from the same page.

It is necessary that Japan work with the United States to establish a missile defense system (to counter North Korean nuclear weapons).

Obviously, the debate was colored by the early stages of the Iraq War when lots of press accounts were exaggerating the trouble that coalition forces were having in Iraq. The US did not fail in Iraq. It did not inflict massive civilian casualties. It is not paralyzed by mutual recriminations over who botched the war effort. Therefore the US is not going to withdraw from Asia.

I find the arguments I've read from Japanese debating their national security to be fairly rational for the most part. They do not want to be defenseless against North Korean missiles and they know they will be less safe if North Korea develops nuclear weapons. They know what the threats are, they are not overly influenced by a resentment toward American forces that help guarantee their security (by contrast with South Korea), and they are arguing about appropriate responses.

I think Japan needs to move a lot more quickly to build missile defenses. One short-term option might be as Robyn Lim suggests: shift Patriots PAC-3 defense systems that the US has in other locations to American bases in Japan.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 April 17 02:39 PM  Military War, Rumours Of War


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