SENIOR GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL SEES ARMED CLASH DRAWING CLOSE ON KOREAN PENINSULA
With tension over the Korean Peninsula showing no signs of abating, the chances of a military clash between the US and North Korea continue to increase. In a recent interview, an influential figure in the inner circles of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned, on condition of anonymity:
“I’m of the opinion that the US will likely attack the North sometime between the year end and early next year.”
Echoed a senior member of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), who also asked to remain unnamed: “Japan has been told by reliable American sources that the US forces will need only two days to complete their task.”
Interviewed separately, these officials agreed that the US will likely launch a military attack on the North in the not too distant future, and that the only period in which the attack is unlikely will be between November 5 and 12, when President Trump is slated to visit five Asian nations, including Japan, South Korea and China.
Until the last minute, the US will endeavor to resort to diplomatic means, urging Kim Jong-un to give up his missiles and nuclear weapons, according to these officials. If America fails to get what it wants, noted the government official, the situation “will enter uncharted territory.” In other words, a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula may very well become a reality as early as the second half of November.
In Washington on September 18, Defense Secretary James Mattis declared that he believed the US had found military options to handle the nuclear crisis on the peninsula that would not put Seoul at grave risk. He refused to elaborate. On October 1, President Trump tweeted to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now?…”
In Tokyo, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera expounded his position vis-à-vis Japan developing a preemptive enemy base attack capability when he appeared as a guest on my regular Genron Internet TV news show on September 18. Earlier this year, Onodera compiled a report as head of the LDP’s Council on Defense Policy, urging the government to immediately start studying ways to intercept missiles more effectively, including striking back at enemy bases. Explained Onodera:
“The government has so far dealt with the matter of missile interception only from an exclusively defense-oriented position—after a hostile missile is launched. However, the LDP has decided to view shooting down ballistic missiles seconds before or after they are launched as a legitimate part of our defensive action.”
Nuclear Attack Not Unlikely
Asked at what stage of a launch a hostile missile can be intercepted most efficiently, Onodera had this to say:
“As of now, Japan would intercept a hostile missile in its descent after peaking out—long after its launch. But this makes interception extremely difficult. The easiest timing would be just before launch, or the so-called ‘boost phase’ immediately following a launch, when a missile begins to pick up speed. Because the speed is still relatively slow at that stage, it’s the easiest time to intercept a missile.
“However, our existing exclusively defense-oriented strategy only allows us to intercept a missile already heading our way. A missile is physically in North Korean territory while being aimed at Japan, and still in its territorial air space in the boost phase. To intercept such a missile, Japan needs missiles of its own with ranges sufficient to reach North Korea. It is our party’s position that we must proactively engage in a national debate on a less defensive approach when it comes to missile interception.”
So long as Japan clings strictly to its exclusively defense-oriented national defense posture, enabling it to counterattack only after suffering damage from an enemy attack, it can hardly defend itself sufficiently. I wish to commend the panel’s recommendations as realistic in light of possible North Korean missile or nuclear attacks on Japan.
However, Abe has so far been quoted as having no immediate plans to prepare and equip Japan along the lines of the panel’s proposal.
On the other hand, Onodera noted:
“Successive cabinets have steadfastly stood firm on this policy. In other words, if we determine that an adversary is clearly prepared to attack us based on our own intelligence plus intelligence available from our allies, and if we judge that the adversary has actually initiated preparations for an imminent attack, the cabinet has the authority to order the Self-Defense Forces to take appropriate military action.”
A similar approach is being debated in the US now in lieu of a preemptive strike, according to the afore-mentioned government official.
As of last September, 58% of Americans favored a preemptive attack on North Korea. But the US has traditionally been inclined to let adversaries attack first before hitting back. In his classic President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War 1941 (Transaction Publishers, 1948), the renowned American historian Charles A. Beard (1874-1948) pointed out how America had managed to adroitly maneuver Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor first. The official noted:
“Eager to avoid the image of a preemptive attack, Americans have started debating an alternative approach. They now argue that America can legitimately ‘strike back’ when an adversary’s intent to attack becomes evident and when America judges that the adversary has actually started preparing for an attack. According to this new strategy, it is up to the government to determine what is a hostile action by a foreign state. As you can see, this is similar to what the LDP would like to pursue.”
Asked if the necessary budgetary steps have been taken for such missiles and equipment required for an attack on an enemy, the official snapped:
“No. We must realize that there is a real possibility of conflict with the North ahead of us. Remember we are actually talking about the year end—or very early next year. It is now impossible to secure budgetary provisions before then. We must resort to contingency measures when push comes to shove.”
Our prime minister has declared that he had dissolved the upper house and called a snap election on October 22 in order to overcome “a grave crisis” facing Japan. As Abe rightly pointed out, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is becoming more critical than ever. America’s intent as regards North Korea is to have the recluse autocracy give up its nuclear program altogether. America obviously is determined to implement its “beheading operation” aimed at removing Kim Jong-un. That much is certain, but what will happen afterwards?
Bringing Home Japanese Abducted by North Korea
What should Japan aim to do if a conflict develops on the Korean Peninsula? First and foremost, we must concentrate our efforts on rescuing Megumi Yokota and numerous other Japanese abductees known to be alive somewhere in the North. The Foreign Ministry is in charge of this matter, but it has no pertinent information on the abductees. Presumably, the US State Department does not have much information either.
A successful rescue operation is next to impossible without any knowledge on where each of the abductees is located, and even if we did have such information, a rescue attempt would be difficult to execute under our current laws. How should we change this abnormal situation in which Japan as a democratic nation is powerless in coming to the aid of its citizens? All responsible Japanese must sincerely grapple with this question and take concrete steps to resolve it. That I believe will ultimately lead to a revision of our postwar constitution.
Another point we must firmly bear in mind beyond the crisis on the Korean Peninsula is the steadily increasing threat from China. The government official pointed out:
“China must certainly welcome the whole world focusing its attention on the North Korean issue. But we must bear in mind that the North Korea problem is synonymous with the China problem.”
Under the pretext of engaging in anti-piracy activities off Somalia, China has been conducting extensive oceanographic surveys across the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. China’s intent is to resort to submarines as an effective countermeasure against American aircraft carriers. Deploying more than 71 submarines submerged in the oceans of the world, China is tenaciously attempting to put a check on the activities of the US Navy.
An effective deployment of submarines is not possible without thoroughly studying the world’s oceans. Not only submarine topography but also seasonal undersea currents, water temperatures, and salinity concentration must be closely surveyed. This China does blatantly whenever and wherever it pleases.
“China is intent on similar surveys in the waters around Japan,” warned the official. “But Japan and the US, as well as India and Australia, are well aware of China’s true intent in these surveys. We are closely cooperating with each other to resist a steady Chinese move towards world hegemony.”
The October 22 election should not be used to waste our precious time debating the nonsensical allegations of cronyism against Abe brought up by the opposition camp, including the Party of Hope led by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike. We must clearly bear in mind that this is going to be an election that calls for every voter to make Japan a nation that can sufficiently cope with the North Korean crisis and the Chinese threat, militarily if necessary. We must elect a government that can without fail be trusted with the security of the country and its people.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 775 in the October 26, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)