NEEDED: NEW POLICY ENABLING PREEMPTIVE ENEMY BASE ATTACKS
As water seeks its own level, so China quietly reaches out to weaker nations as targets of domination far and wide across the globe. With the US preoccupied by the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and the runup to the presidential election in November, China continues to advance its aggressive agenda in our region. Against this backdrop, Defense Minister Taro Kono abruptly announced on June 15 that Japan will back away from installing two Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense systems.
In December 2017 the Japanese government decided to deploy the land-based systems in an effort to enhance the “two-front” operations it badly needed to cope effectively with nuclear missiles both from China and North Korea.
The Defense Ministry had reasoned that the Aegis installations in Akita and Yamaguchi Prefectures, some 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) apart, would be sufficient to protect the whole of Japan against North Korean missiles. The ministry expected the systems to provide Japan powerful defense and counterattack ability simultaneously, intercepting North Korean missiles in the air while swiftly counterattacking with Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The coveted BMD systems, originally estimated at US$4.2 billion including maintenance, were expected to bring the added advantage of enabling the resources-short Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSFD) to divert its seven Aegis-installed destroyers to patrol the seas off the Nansei and Senkaku Islands to check Chinese Coast Guard and navy vessels that habitually threaten security in that area.
Before announcing his decision, Kono had ordered a review of the plan, which allegedly revealed significant modification needed of the original plan. As the reason for the suspension of the plan, he cited time, cost, and a widening “discrepancy” between what his ministry had explained to the two prefectures about the project and what the systems would actually be like.
An interceptor missile launched from its base would destroy a hostile missile high in outer space, but it had been determined that the rocket booster of an interceptor missile could possibly land outside of designated safe areas. Kono said his ministry had been telling local communities otherwise—that there would be no chance of the empty rocket booster falling over commercial or residential areas outside designated safety areas.
Former deputy foreign minister Masahisa Sato pointed out:
“The fundamental mistake Mr. Kono made was viewing in the same light two entirely different types of threats—a nuclear missile launched by North Korea and an empty tank, measuring some 1.8 meters, falling from the sky.”
Twisted National Defense Mindset
While the possibility of an empty booster directly hitting a private home or a commercial facility from the sky could not be completely ruled out, such a possibility would be very close to zero. Meanwhile, North Korean nuclear warheads are believed to have more than 10 times the killing power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. As we all know, the Scud and Nodong missiles used to carry nuclear warheads hold all of Japan within range. And a North Korean nuclear attack would cost us hundreds of thousands of our lives.
In Kono’s decision making, I see a twisted national defense mindset prevalent among peace-addicted postwar Japanese—the propensity to discuss an empty rocket booster in the same terms as a missile with a nuclear warhead—a bad habit of judging the international circumstances facing Japan purely on the basis of wishful thinking. Our politicians and media must learn to think much more in line with the harsh reality encircling Japan. Sato further emphasized:
“The PAC-3s are deployed on the premises of the Defense Ministry in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. Should the metropolis be subjected to missile attacks, it would be ideal if our Aegis-installed destroyers could intercept the missiles in the upper stratosphere. Should they miss them there, our PAC-3s would be put to work to block them in the lower stratosphere much close to the earth’s surface. In such instances, there is a great danger of the debris of hostile missiles falling over commercial and residential areas across Shinjuku Ward. That is exactly what the government must honestly inform people. We must then formulate a concrete program under which the debris would be prevented from falling there, such as by securing more spacious areas for the Aegis batteries or more expansive interceptor missile bases along the coast. There are various ways to minimize the damage people would suffer from missile attacks.”
Meanwhile, former defense minister Itsunori Onodera asserts that the government hasn’t quite given up on the projected installation of the Aegis Ashore facilities altogether, noting:
“I understand that efforts are still being made in the US to improve the system. I believe it is possible to install improved versions in Japan if we can find ideal locations replacing Akita and Yamaguchi. As a matter of fact, an off-shore location is seen as a potential candidate site now.”
According to well-informed sources, Aegis installations can be built on off-shore structures, or aboard JMSDF warships.
Some quarters point out that different specifications would be required separately for sea-based and ground-based facilities, but experts maintain that sufficient modification could be made at this stage of development. But Japan has yet another hurdle to clear before being able to utilize the Aegis systems, i.e., the JSDF is precariously over-stretched, especially its maritime operations, due to a lack of personnel and ships. With manpower already at 91.7% of the legally approved ceiling, the JMSDF has been compelled to even shorten the period of its crucial basic training.
Initially, one of the objectives of installing the land-based Aegis systems was to lessen the burdens on the JMSDF. If the land-based installations are to be abandoned, it will be difficult for the JMSDF to manage the systems with its existing human resources, whether on off-shore structures or on board warships.
Kono’s “Investor Mentality” Unfit for National Defense
Kono’s judgment cannot be allowed to lead to a serious hole in the defense of the Japanese archipelago. For that purpose, the government must make clear its resolve to protect people and their homeland at any cost. It must fortify its resolve to valiantly fight off any attempt by adversaries to threaten Japanese security. That should be the first step toward closing the hole in our defense. In this respect, Kono’s remarks as defense minister were vastly out of tune. As regards a possible review of the Aegis project, he had this to say: “It is not rational as an investment either. Let’s graciously cut our losses and move on.”
Needless to say, our budget should not be wasted, but it would be absurd to discuss national defense purely in terms of the costs involved. North Korea and China are on our doorstep, while Russia is taking threatening actions in tandem with China in the seas off the Senkaku Islands. So long as we are encircled by these neighbors, which ultimately will not hesitate to resort to force to get what they want, we must make every effort to enhance our national defense mechanism, regardless of the cost. As defense minister, Kono is known to attach a great deal of importance to using reusable “eco” bags at shops within the ministry. Would that really matter if a North Korean nuclear warhead were to strike Tokyo?
As defense minister, Kono should have refrained from declaring the suspension of the Aegis project based on his “investor mentality.” It is now up to him to demonstrate how the big hole that his judgment is expected to make in our national defense framework can satisfactorily be filled.
This month, President Trump instructed the US Department of Defense to reduce the number of US troops in Germany to 25,000 men, trimming 9,500. Although Trump’s plan to withdraw US troops completely from Germany was put on hold due to opposition from the US Congress, Richard Grenell, who resigned as US ambassador to Germany this month, framed the reduction in Germany as part of a broader redeployment of US forces from countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, South Korea, and Japan. This is yet more proof that America’s major plan to reduce its troops globally will remain unchanged.
I want to make one thing very clear here. The US-Japan Security Treaty, revised in 1960, is a bona fide international treaty which I believe both the US and Japan will strictly honor. To deal effectively with threats from China and North Korea, however, Japan must earnestly strive to enhance its national defense capabilities. To demonstrate our nation‘s commitment to this cause, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must—contrary to Kono’s investor-minded remarks—significantly increase our defense budget, setting forth a bold policy which enables Japan to attack enemy bases preemptively before nuclear missiles are headed our way. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 907 in the July 2, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)