[Editorial] Japan must heed neighbors’ fears over ramped up attack capabilities

Posted on : 2022-12-15 16:42 KST Modified on : 2022-12-15 16:42 KST
Peace on the peninsula could be instantly shattered by the decisions of Washington and Tokyo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan (from the Prime Minister’s Office of Japan website)
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan (from the Prime Minister’s Office of Japan website)

This Friday, the Japanese government plans to amend its National Security Strategy (NSS), National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), and Medium Term Defense Program (MTDP).

The major changes include the reorganization of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), a large increase in defense spending, and the acquisition of “enemy base strike capabilities,” which would allow Japan to launch direct strikes against missile bases in North Korea or China in an emergency situation.

While they don’t amend the Constitution itself, the changes pose a serious risk of substantially altering the pacifist document that has been maintained for over 75 years since World War II, and Japan’s principle of exclusively defense-oriented policies.

The gist of the three national security documents’ amendment — which is to be finalized by the Cabinet this year following an agreement by Japan’s ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito — involves the acquisition of counterattack capabilities to respond to North Korea and China beefing up their military strength.

Concluding that China poses “the greatest strategic challenges ever seen before” and that North Korea represents a “severe and imminent threat,” Japan plans to set in stone its plans to acquire counterattack capabilities that would allow it to attack enemy bases for the first time since WWII.

It is also increasing its defense spending from its current level of 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) to 2% in the next five years. Additional plans reportedly include strengthening Maritime and Air Self-Defense Force firepower and upgrading Ground Self-Defense Force operational units to prepare for an emergency scenario (war) in Taiwan.

The changes are especially significant in that the Japanese government was confirmed to have specified that its enemy base strike capabilities could be applied not just in cases where Japan itself was under attack, but also those where the US is under attack.

For example, a North Korean attack on a US warship in the East Sea in an emergency on the Korean Peninsula could be deemed an “existential crisis,” where the JSDF would be able to strike against the North according to its “collective self-defense” rights if the US wishes. This means the possibility that peace on the peninsula could be instantly shattered by the decisions of Washington and Tokyo and Japan’s use of force, as the JSDF comes to insert itself in the peninsula’s affairs.

Tokyo’s position is that these measures are in response to changes to the international order and national security situation. But they’re unavoidably worrisome for South Korea, given our past experiences with invasion and colonization by Japan.

While showing no real remorse over its historical actions, Japan has launched a steady push since the 2010s to introduce security legislation and other measures in an attempt to basically gut Article 9 of the Constitution, which renounces war.

Even within Japan, many are objecting to the amendments of the three security documents, arguing that the large hike in defense spending will hurt public welfare in Japan while undermining the principles of the pacifist Constitution.

The Japanese government needs to pay heed to both these objections at home and the concerns of neighbors like South Korea. South Korea’s government needs to continue clearly conveying our concerns, while communicating with Washington and Tokyo to ensure they do not get to make unilateral decisions about the Korean Peninsula’s security situation.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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