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25 Jul, 2013 10:42

Pacifist Japan no more? Tokyo to consider pre-emptive strike strategy

Pacifist Japan no more? Tokyo to consider pre-emptive strike strategy

An interim report to be discussed by PM Shinzo Abe’s government suggests that a fundamental change in Japan’s military defense doctrine may be coming: a pre-emptive strike strategy against potential aggressors.

Abe's government is revising its defense policies, with an interim report due on Friday, while the final conclusions on the matter will be made by the end of 2013. The study explores the ways to “strengthen the ability to deter and respond to ballistic missiles,” Japanese media revealed on Thursday.

However, the report prepared by Japan’s Defense Ministry reportedly does not mention by what measures would be taken against foreign military bases if a threat became imminent.

At the same time Tokyo confirms it has no intentions of becoming a nuclear power – despite the fact that its major potential adversary, China, has been one for decades, possessing a fully-fledged nuclear triad, while nearby North Korea has been demonstrating nuclear ambitions since at least 2007.

“The acquisition of offensive capability would be a fundamental change in our defense policy, a kind of philosophical change,” a professor at the National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies, Marushige Michishita, told Reuters. The scholar stressed though that such an undertaking would be expensive and time-consuming, because “It's easier said than done.”

Japanese Ground Self Defence Force's tank unit (AFP Photo / Yoshikazu Tsuno)

Experts say that to get the pre-emptive strike ability may require Japan to develop intercontinental and cruise missiles along with a more powerful Air Force.

“It would cost lots of money, and take time, training and education to acquire a robust and meaningful capability,” Michishita concluded.

The Japanese leadership is moving further away from the pacifist constitution imposed on Tokyo by the American occupation administration over half a century ago. The last time Tokyo updated its National Defense Program Guidelines was in 2010, with the Democratic Party being in power.

The US-drafted Article 9 of the Japanese constitution prohibits the very possibility for Japan to wage war and have its own modern army. Despite that, today Japan boasts one of the best armies in Asia.

Japanese servicemen have vast real warfare experience, having taken part in all of the conflicts started by the US in the past two decades. Japanese peacekeepers are also actively participating in the UN missions in Africa and Asia.

AFP Photo / Yoshikazu Tsuno

To take part in international projects, Japan has already had to ease its self-imposed ban on weapons exports. Now the leaders of Japanese military industrial complex, giants like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd, and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd, await clear guidelines for the promotion of their military business overseas.

Because Japan has been stretching the limits of Article 9 for decades, some say the change is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. And since there have been no negative remarks on Japan’s military development coming from Washington, it could mean that Abe’s team is transforming nation’s military in a direction not incompatible with the US.

The potential threats Japan might face at the moment come from the Asian continent.

China not only has world’s largest army, but has been dramatically modernizing its military forces over the last decade. Pyongyang is an old adversary of Washington, rivaling American dominance in the Pacific. As for Japan, it has territorial disputes over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in Chinese tradition) with China, meaning that Washington’s and Tokyo’s interests coincide.

On the other hand North Korea, that strives to achieve a nuclear power status, has been openly threatening Tokyo with destroying US military bases on Japanese territory.

To deal specifically with territorial disputes at remote islands, Japan reportedly plans to establish a Marines task force. Purchase of unmanned surveillance drones is also planned to monitor the country’s maritime borders.

A Japan Air Self-Defence Force's F-2 fighter jet (Reuters)