WHY JAPAN TODAY IS INCAPABLE OF DEFENDING ITS LAND AND PEOPLE
This year marks the 40th year since 13-year-old Megumi Yokota was abducted by North Korean agents, the 20th year since the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea (AFVKN) was formed, and the 15th year since a group of five Japanese abductees, including Toru Hasuike, managed to finally return to Japan.
Megumi, still believed to be alive somewhere in North Korea, would now be 53, while her father Shigeru is 84 and ailing, and her mother Sakie, 81. Why has the Japanese government yet to obtain the release of the remaining Japanese abductees, said to be close to 900? Why this failure?
In an attempt to explain the reasons, I wrote about the experience of Ms. Kyoko Nakayama in this column in December 2016. Ms. Nakayama served as Special Advisor to the Cabinet for the North Korean abduction issue 2002-2004 under the administration of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
In September 2002, Koizumi paid a surprise visit to Pyongyang for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to obtain the abductees’ release. The following month, five abductees visited Japan on a week-long visit arranged between the two governments, setting foot in Japan for the first time in 24 years. The Foreign Ministry had intended to get them to fly back to North Korea after one week, but Ms. Nakayama asserted that all of them must be kept in Japan as a reflection of “the strong will of the Japanese state.”
She was right. After all, none of the abductees had chosen to go to North Korea of their own volition, having been brutally abducted, tied up and thrown into small fishing boats. How could a sovereign nation let them return to the communist autocracy after managing to get home after so many years? That is why Ms. Nakayama quite naturally declared it was “a matter of the will of our state.”
But her office was inundated with angry telephone calls and faxes, all criticizing her for her “audacity” in bringing up “the will of the nation” at that juncture. Common sense dictates that the primary responsibility of any responsible democratic state is to protect its people, and that, if its people were abducted, it has the responsibility to do everything in its power to retrieve them. And yet, the Japanese media, the public, our bureaucrats, and our politicians did not take kindly to what Ms. Nakayama referred to as the “will of the state.”
Japan as a nation—its government and people alike—absolutely failed to recognize the necessity and responsibility to come to the aid of the abductees at the time. Obtaining the freedom of the abductees with such a mindset was totally impossible.
Against such a backdrop, there was only one politician who paid attention to and fully agreed with Nakayama’s assertion. The man was Shinzo Abe, who then was Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary under Koizumi. Abe decided the five should remain in Japan as “the will of the Japanese government.”
Today, 15 years after the incident, no Japanese will be criticized for talking about the “will of the state.” Instead, active discussions are being held on all levels across the nation on how the state should protect the people against the North Korean nuclear and missile threats. The “will of the state” is no longer taboo, with attitudes about national security that are considered common sense in the rest of the world having belatedly come to Japan. The pertinent question now is how Japan’s security can be safeguarded and whether or not Japan at present is capable of defending itself.
Helplessly Dependent on the US
The first answer to this question many Japanese like to come up with is strengthening the US-Japan security framework so as to get the US to commit itself further to protecting Japan. I would also stress this point when answering this question.
However, in light of the growing uncertainty about America’s extended deterrence, i.e., its nuclear “umbrella,” Japan must free itself as soon as possible from its status as what former US presidential aide Zbigniew Brzezinski once called America’s “de facto protectorate.”
For that purpose, it is critical for we Japanese to come to grips with the harsh reality of our nation today, i.e., how abnormal it is for Japan to be so under-prepared in safeguarding its national security. The government must inform the people far more proactively of the critical threats Japan faces today.
When North Korea launched its Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) missile early on August 29, which over Japan’s air space into the Pacific, Abe told reporters: “The government had a complete grasp of the missile’s situation immediately after the launch.”
Another Hwasong-12 missile, this one launched 17 days later, on September 15, traveled 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) farther and 200 kilometers(125 miles)higher, reaching an altitude of 800 kilometers (500 miles). Experts believe some of the latest North Korean missiles are capable of attacking American military installations on Guam. America’s irritation with North Korea has since heightened significantly, with 53% of its populace favoring the military taking action against the North.
Japan and South Korea have been subjected to unavoidable effects of an escalating confrontation between the US and North Korea, with the latest and far more menacing ballistic missiles adding to a new sense of crisis. After this latest missile launch, Abe made a statement basically similar to his August 29 comments. This had a leading member of the ruling party more than a little concerned.
“The government may have had a grasp of North Korea’s rocket launches, but the intelligence Japan had was solely provided by the US and South Korea,” commented the official who prefers to be unnamed. “Japan alone would have realized the rockets’ flights only after they came too close to Japan. This is simply too late.”
Appearing as a guest on my weekly “Genron” Internet TV news show, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera noted that, by deploying a land-based Aegis missile defense system, Japan’s ability to intercept hostile missiles would be significantly enhanced, stressing that two such systems would be able to sufficiently defend the whole of Japan. But the problem is that their deployment would take three years. What is there to do in the meantime to defend Japan?
Commented the afore-mentioned official of the ruling party:
“What North Korea does in terms of developing and deploying its missiles and nuclear weapons is monitored by early warning satellites. Japan has no such satellite, so we depend entirely on the US for any related intelligence it can share with us. Without America’s backing, we would be totally at a loss—unable to figure out when missiles were launched, their types, direction, and when the boosters were separated.
“We in Japan cannot really cope realistically with ballistic missiles from the North without help from the US.” The official had this to add:
Can Japan Really Defend Itself?
“The most reliable weaponry in our anti-missile defense are our SM3 missiles aboard the Aegis ships of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces. They can successfully intercept hostile missiles. But these missiles only reach an altitude of 500 kilometers (313 miles), while the North Korean Hwasong-12, launched on September 15, soared to 800 kilometers. This means that SM-3s will not be able to intercept Hwasong-12s.”
The US and Japan have jointly been developing an improved version of the SM3, but sources report that their deployment must wait until 2021. (The Sankei Shimbun, September 16, 2017)
Last March, a ruling party panel urged the Japanese government to acquire “preemptive strike capability against enemy bases.” While Japan would be capable of intercepting “several hostile missiles” with its current missile-defense system, noted the Policy Affairs Research Committee of the Liberal-Democratic Party, “there would be no effective defense against several tens of missiles launched simultaneously.” Therefore, in order to protect the people, said the panel in its proposal, it is desirable to preemptively attack enemy bases as soon as the sure signs of rocket launches against Japan are detected. This is “within the range of the right to self-defense” under the present Japanese constitution.
So far, so good. But the proposal added:
“However, Japan at present does not possess the means of pinpointing targets or the ability to neutralize radar—let alone the precision-guided missiles themselves that would be required in such an attack, nor are there any plans to put in place those necessary elements.”
Doesn’t this situation simply mean that Japan is incapable of defending itself under present circumstances? Responding to North Korea’s rapid nuclear development, active discussions have started in South Korea and the US on the possibility of Japan going nuclear. However, there is strong inherent opposition in Japan to even discussing its “three antinuclear principles,” i.e., Japan should not “produce, own, or allow into the country nuclear weapons.”
In point of fact, Kenji Eda, an influential member of the top opposition Democratic Party, remarked on Fuji TV’s “Shin-hodo 2001” news program on September 17 that he was opposed to discussing the antinuclear principles because he fears that publicly discussing it would lead to their review. If the three principles are strictly adhered to, it will become impossible for the US Navy’s Aegis ships, presumably armed with atomic weapons, to call at Japanese ports. How can such a framework enable Japan to defend itself?
Measures that can truly defend us Japanese will be possible only when the harsh facts pertaining to Japan’s current crisis are shared among as many of us across Japan as possible. When that time comes, Japan’s ability to resolve its international problems, including the abduction issue, will be truly strengthened for the first time in its postwar history.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 771 in the September 28, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)