CAN OUR PARLIAMENTARIANS BE TRUSTED WITH DEFENSE OF JAPAN?
Listening to Diet deliberations, one cannot help but wonder if our parliamentarians truly understand how dire the current circumstances are on the Korean Peninsula.
Both the North and the South are in a state of crisis, while the US has vowed to implement a fundamental review of its policy towards the North. Is Japan prepared to cope effectively with this highly dangerous situation?
While the Trump administration’s comprehensive plans for Asia have yet to be finalized, what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed in terms of a new policy towards North Korea during his recent visit to Asia was disquieting.
Visiting Tokyo May 15-16, Tillerson conferred with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and then with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, declaring that the US effort over the past 20 years to halt North Korea’s nuclear development “has failed.” His statement, challenging the North Korean policies of the past US administrations and vowing to take “a new approach,” is expected to lead to a dramatic change in the US posture towards Pyongyang. But Japanese reaction has been lukewarm, to say the least.
Flying to South Korea from Tokyo to inspect the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the Korean Peninsula, Tillerson took one step further by declaring that Obama’s approach of “strategic patience is over” during a news conference.
Obama relied on China in order to keep dialogue going with North Korea. By doing so, he may have expected Beijing to induce Pyongyang to suspend its nuclear program peacefully, but it is highly unlikely that Beijing has in fact made any determined efforts in this regard. The North Korean policies of past American administrations have subsequently failed across the board, Tillerson pointed out.
Dissatisfied with the present North Korea situation and hinting at the possibility of the US taking military action, Tillerson asserted: “…obviously, if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that would be met with an appropriate response.”
Responding to what can be interpreted as America’s warning to Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who received Tillerson in Beijing March 18, told his American counterpart that all parties, including the US, should “size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision.”
Tillerson reportedly explained to the Chinese side the US stance on the projected deployment in South Korea of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. He made no secret of America’s determination to forge ahead with an early deployment of the missile defense system—despite China’s opposition and the on-going political upheaval in South Korea.
An Adversary Who Puts Little Value on Its People’s Lives
The New York Times quickly followed up with an analysis of three types of preemptive US strikes against North Korea in its March 28, 2017 edition—(1) a single strike to halt a missile launch; (2) a set of strikes to devastate the (North Korean) arsenal; and (3) a war launched on American terms.
Plan (1) involves technical difficulties now that North Korea has secured the technology to fire missiles from mobile launchers. The March 6 simultaneous launches of four ballistic missiles, all of which landed in roughly the same area of the Japan Sea, demonstrated the significant progress North Korea has made in missile launch technology. This progress should not be underestimated. The fact that the launchers had been set up in a paddy with obviously poor footing and that they were launched in early morning must also be noted.
This is clearly proof that North Korea is now capable of injecting fuel into missiles by night without being detected by reconnaissance satellites, and of launching them from any site of their choice, according to Fumio Ota of the Japan Institute of National Fundamentals (JINF), a privately financed Tokyo think tank that I head.
Experts believe the North Koreans have already acquired 200 Nodong missiles, 300 improved Scud missiles, and 20 miniaturized nuclear warheads that can be mounted atop missiles.
A further cause for grave concern is the 2,500 to 5,000 tons of deadly VX nerve gas that North Korea is thought to possess. Kim Jong-un recently ordered his half-brother killed with VX at a bustling international airport in Malaysia. A man of his disposition could easily be expected to deploy ballistic missiles loaded with chemical weapons.
The difficulties involved in preemptively destroying North Korean missiles launched from mobile launchers have earlier been pointed out, but there is also no guarantee that, once they are launched, the North Korean missiles could be effectively intercepted with missile defense networks.
Even if the missiles could be successfully intercepted, tens of thousands—or millions—of lives would be imperiled, as the missiles would explode mid-air with chemical weapons aboard. One cannot but imagine a worst-case scenario of terror such as this.
Plan (2) calls for an attack on the North Korean arsenal in conjunction with cyberattacks. But the North’s cyberattack capabilities should not be underrated. They will surely retaliate promptly, with even a limited attack potentially leading to all-out war.
Plan (3) calls for the US to attack North Korea with overwhelming military power, much as in Iraq in 2003. A clear difference between Iraq and North Korea is that the latter has gone nuclear. What if North Korea fires just one nuclear warhead into South Korea, Japan, or the US? The US cannot readily take such a risky step.
Former Tokyo Mayor and lawmaker Shintaro Ishihara once declared the US would never win a war against China, claiming China puts little value on its people’s lives while the US does.The same thing can be said about North Korea. If so, America’s options are limited.
Japan: North Korea’s Immediate Target
Politicians and the media in the US are earnestly endeavoring to face up to the North Korean nuclear and missile threat. With a strong military—as well as a constitution and national defense laws that allow it to take necessary military countermeasures—the US is infinitely better prepared than Japan to protect itself and its people. As is seen in the aforementioned New York Times article, a wide ranging national debate on the issue has been taking place in the US, including consideration of measures that may not be realistic.
Meanwhile in Japan, ill-equipped to protect itself and its people on its own, the Diet and the mass media somehow are appallingly reluctant to squarely face up to the obvious crisis.
North Korea was once pledged to no preemptive use of nuclear weapons. They declared that they intended to own nuclear weapons in order to only have secondary attack capability to deter an American nuclear attack.
However, the North’s position has quantitatively changed since then. An official announcement that followed the launch of the four ballistic missiles on March 4 said the launch was an exercise undertaken by the Hwasong artillery unit of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), which is tasked with targeting American bases in Japan. In other words, the North’s immediate target is Japan.
Professor Hideya Kurata of the National Defense Academy of Japan pointed out the importance of Kim Jong-un remarking to nuclear weapons specialists and rocket scientists accompanying him on the day of the launch that North Korea is committed to “strengthening our program to continuously develop ultra-precision, intelligent rockets both in quality and quantity.” (The Sankei Shimbun, March 17, 2017). The present status of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development has far exceeded the realm of minimal deterrence. North Korea has rapidly improved and refined its nuclear and missile technologies and arsenal, posing a new threat to none other than those of us living in Japan.
China, too, once pledged no preemptive use of nuclear weapons. But this reference has been deleted from its white paper on national defense since 2013. Meanwhile, China has made clear its intention to not hesitate to exercise its military might to safeguard its core interests. The Senkaku Islands, which Japan administers, fall exactly into this category of Beijing’s core interests.
The threats from China and North Korea see no end of intensifying. A discussion of how to surmount this stern reality facing Japan must by all means take top priority at Diet deliberations.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 747 in the March 30, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)