Japan’s post-war Constitution
North Korea is acting as if to wake a long-time sleeping lion in Asia—that is, Japan. Pyongyang has rapidly been magnifying its missile and nuclear threat, firing 20 ballistic missiles and conducting one nuclear test this year alone.
Right-wing politicians in Tokyo are claiming Pyongyang is virtually declaring war against Tokyo by flying so many ballistic missiles above Japanese soil. They are publicly suggesting that Japan should have its own nuclear weapons to counter North Korea’s belligerent behavior.
With Pyongyang getting closer to deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) mounted with nuclear warheads capable of reaching Washington, the Japanese Defense Ministry on December 8 announced that Tokyo decided to equip Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) fighter aircraft with long-range cruise missiles that could strike North Korea.
3 Types of Cruise Missiles
Specifically, Tokyo is looking to equip JASDF fighter aircraft with three types of air-launched missiles that can be fired at a stand-off range. Two of the three would be the Lockheed Martin AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) and the AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). Both would be fitted to JASDF F-15J Eagle fighters and F-2 fighters.
According to Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, both the JASSM-ER and LRASM have a maximum range of 926 kilometers, making it possible for Tokyo to strike not only North Korean ground and naval targets at stand-off ranges, but also to counter missile threats from the Chinese and Russian navies.
This writer largely agrees to Japan’s possession of the ability to strike enemy bases, considering today’s increasingly severe security environment surrounding Japan. But in order to have such military capabilities and reinforce well-established security measures, Japan, as a constitutional democracy, needs to change the Constitution’s pacifist Article 9—which renounces the right to war and prohibits the maintenance of “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential”—once and for all.
(RELATED ARTICLE: Japan Constitution’s Article 9 is Anti-Peace. Why Preserve It?)
As for carrying out a pre-emptive strike on an enemy base that is about to launch a ballistic missile, the government has said such a capability is possible even under the war-renouncing Constitution. The government takes an official view that it’s within the limits of self-defense when an attack is imminent and if and only “no other options exist.”
Then, here comes a question. Is there really any situation when “no other options exist” because the United States has obligations to defend Japan in the event of an armed attack on Tokyo, based on Article 5 of the Japan-US Security Treaty?
It is well known that in the post-World War II period, the SDF have served as a “shield,” engaged only in defense, while US forces have served as a “pike” for retaliatory attacks. US forces, including the US 7th Fleet, maintain a large number of missiles capable of directly attacking North Korea as a primarily offensive power.
For this division of roles between the two nations, Japan has maintained an exclusively defense-oriented security policy of the post-war period. Thus, to build up the nation’s offensive capability to attack enemy missile bases could potentially damage the alliance’s role sharing.
The move also fundamentally contradicts the government’s long-standing position that it is not considering acquiring munitions intended for attacking enemy bases, including long-range cruise missiles for that purpose.
To be sure, Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera said at the press conference on December 8 that the introduction of the cruise missiles would not contradict Japan’s defense-oriented security policy.
He stressed that the missiles would enable the SDF to deal with enemies from outside their threat range in order to effectively defend Japan while securing the safety of SDF personnel. The cruise missiles were also intended to defend Japan’s remote islands, he added.
But the weapons are likely to be used to defend the country outside Japanese territories in the event of a missile attack by North Korea.
According to the Ministry of Defense, under the post-war Constitution, Japan is not allowed to have “offensive weapons” designed to be used only for the mass destruction of another country, which would, by definition, exceed the minimum necessary level. For example, the SDF is not allowed to possess ICBMs, long-range strategic bombers, or attack aircraft carriers. Those are not permissible under any circumstances.
But now that SDF have capabilities to use such long-range missiles outside Japanese territories, this could go far beyond the minimum necessary level of self-defense capability, which the Japanese Constitution doesn’t permit.
So far, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Onodera have repeatedly told the Diet that the country’s “enemy-attack capability” is dependent on the US in line with the shared security roles of the US and Japan. They have said, “We do not think that we will change the role share between Japan and the United States in the future.”
But it is apparent the government has in mind North Korea, which has continued advancing its nuclear weapons programs and has fired ballistic missiles over Japanese airspace. Faced with the increasing nuclear and missile threat from North Korea, the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has actually discussed the possibility of acquiring the capability to attack enemy bases since early 2000s. The new National Defense Program Guidelines, adopted in 2013, also clearly stipulate that the government will continue to study “a potential form of response capability” to deal with ballistic missiles.
4 Challenges SDF Faces
Cruise missiles attacking enemy bases from a distance look attractive on the surface as those are considered to entail little human risk and low cost. But militarily speaking, it is virtually nothing just to have cruise missiles as a “spear.”
First, Japan needs to have highly accurate intelligence to figure out where an enemy’s targets are before SDF guide those missiles. To succeed, Tokyo surely needs its own early warning satellites (SEW), the joint surveillance and target attack radar system (JSTARS) as well as the major national intelligence agency. It’s true that it’s becoming difficult for the cruise missile system to strike Rodong and other missiles that can be launched from mobile launching pads.
Second, the nation needs to have capabilities to break through the enemy’s air defense system by destroying or suppressing it before launching cruise missiles. It’s essential to have an air force unit that includes support fighter jets, electronic warfare aircraft, and airborne refueling aircraft.
Third, Tokyo also needs to have strong offensive capabilities by introducing strategic bombers and air superiority fighters, etc., which would enter enemy airspace and attack missile sites and mobile targets.
Fourth, Japan needs to establish strong air defense system. Even if it carries out a pre-emptive strike on an enemy base, without sound defense capabilities it cannot deal with the enemy’s retaliatory attacks.
All of this would entail a sizable expense. Needless to say, it’s quite unrealistic for the SDF to attack enemy bases single-handedly. The cooperation of the US military for such activities as intelligence gathering and detecting potential targets would be vital.
Looking back over Japan’s modern history, after Japan’s defeat in World War II, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of all Allied forces in the Pacific, handed down a war-renouncing Constitution to the Japanese. The main purpose of MacArthur’s policy was to make a postwar Japan completely disarmed, as Imperial Japan went on a rampage in the Asia-Pacific region.
But MacArthur later put Japan on the so-called “reverse course” of rearmament, prompted by the escalation of the Cold War and the break-out of the Korean War. This contradictory legacy is still affecting the SDF, as well as the weaponry acquired and deployed by SDF, as this writer has shown in here.
By international standards, the SDF is one of the world’s largest military forces. But the Japanese Constitution says there is no military in Japan. In terms of democracy, it’s dangerous for the government to keep reinterpreting the Constitution. It’s high time for Japan to come up with a constitutional amendment.
Kosuke Takahashi is a journalist. He is Tokyo correspondent of IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. He worked for The Asahi Shimbun, Bloomberg News, Huffington Post Japan editor in chief and Thomson Reuters. Born in 1968, Takahashi is a graduate of Columbia University’s J-School and SIPA.