Japan Eyes ‘Counter-Attack’ Capability Against North Korea Missile Threat

Developing retaliatory capabilities will face political and financial headwinds in Japan.

On March 30, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) submitted a recommendation for the steps Japan should take to effectively respond to an ever-heightening missile threat from North Korea. The recommendations had three main parts: potential new acquisition of ballistic missile defense (BMD) assets to enhance existing BMD capability; exploration of acquiring “counter-attack” capability; and protection of exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

Out of the three recommendation, the second — exploration of “counter-attack” capability — attracted the biggest attention for its controversial nature. While the members of the study group — comprised mostly of former defense ministers, former deputy defense ministers, and former parliamentary vice ministers — emphasized that they do not intend to recommend Japan acquire “pre-emptive strike” capability, the senior members of Komeito, LDP’s ruling coalition partner, are already voicing concern that Japan’s move to acquire such “offensive” capability may contradict with “exclusively defense-oriented defense posture (senshu bouei),” one of the fundamental principles of Japan’s post-war defense policy.

Given how politically divisive the parliamentary debate was over a set of defense reform bills that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put forward in 2015, the discussion of whether Japan should pursue “counter-attack” capability on its own will be just as politically divisive and controversial — if not more so.

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However, from the point of view of defense planning, the recommendations made by the LDP study group, including the one on “counter-attack” capability, are reasonable, especially given North Korea’s increasingly provocative and unpredictable behavior, not to mention the two missile tests within the past couple of…

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