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Politics & Security

[Speaking Out] Hoping for Vigorous Discussions on Deployment of U.S. Missiles in Japan

Japan’s acceptance of U.S. missiles against China would realistically pave the way for U.S.-China disarmament talks.

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U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self Defense Force carry out joint exercises.

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On November 17, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an advisory panel for the U.S. Congress, released its annual report. One of the report’s key points for Japan is a proposal for dialogue to explore the United States partners’ “willingness to host U.S. intermediate-range forces.” 

The report also calls for “authorizing and funding the deployment of large numbers of anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles in the Indo-Pacific” to ensure Taiwan’s security. 

In response to these proposals, Japan, as the most important U.S. ally in Asia, should promote vigorous domestic discussions toward the acceptance of U.S. missiles. 

Comparison of Japanese Naval Missiles against Chinese Naval Missiles

Japan Seen as the Most Promising Host Country 

Under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed between the United States and the then Soviet Union in 1987, the U.S. has abolished all ground-launched missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500 kilometers. 

At the same time, however, China has steadily deployed ground-launched intermediate-range ballistic missiles with ranges from 3,000 to 5,500 kilometers, and medium-range ballistic missiles with ranges from 1,000 to 3,000 kilometers, that can reach Taiwan and Japan. Earlier this month, an annual U.S. Pentagon report on China’s military power estimated the number of such missiles at 900. 

Japan and the U.S. have deployed no such missiles. In light of this situation, the United States withdrew from the INF treaty during the Donald Trump administration. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

The U.S. wants to deploy intermediate or medium-range missiles as deterrence against China. The problem is whether there are any countries that would accept such missiles. 

South Korea may be reluctant. It remembers that China boycotted South Korean products and reduced Chinese tourism visits to South Korea over the U.S.’ deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles in 2014. 

Taiwan has already been exposed to China’s military pressure. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) includes many countries that curry favor with China and there is little expectation that they would accept U.S. missiles. 

Eventually, Japan may be the only candidate available to accept U.S. missiles in Northeast and Southeast Asia.

Kishida Negative Toward Accepting U.S. Missiles 

Toward the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election in late September, candidate Sanae Takaichi said she would like to request the United States to introduce missiles in Japan. But the other three candidates, including Fumio Kishida who won the LDP presidency and became prime minister, were negative toward accepting U.S. missiles. 

Sanae Takaichi, Chair of the Policy Research Council (LDP)

In a run-up to the INF treaty, however, then- West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt decided to accept the deployment of U.S. Pershing II intermediate range ballistic missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles. Those countered Soviet SS-20 missiles, and led to the U.S.-Soviet disarmament pact. 

Japan’s acceptance of U.S. missiles against China would realistically pave the way for U.S.-China disarmament talks. I would like to see vigorous discussions among Japanese people toward the acceptance of U.S. missiles in Japan. 

(A version of this article was first published by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, Speaking Out #856 on November 25, 2021 in English, and November 22, 2021 in Japanese.)

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Author: Fumio Ota

Fumio Ota is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. He is a retired Vice Admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.

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