Japan will make no reference to acquiring strike capabilities against foreign bases when it revises its national defense plan next month, with discussions on the matter still in the early stages, government and ruling party sources said Thursday.
The omission comes as Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party, voiced concerns that such an acquisition could be problematic under Japan’s pacifist Constitution, the sources said.
In the event of an attack from North Korea or elsewhere, Japan is currently capable of shooting down ballistic missiles using the Self-Defense Forces’ fleet of Aegis-equipped destroyers and land-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptors.
Photo taken March 19, 2020, from a Kyodo News helicopter shows the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s seventh Aegis-equipped destroyer, Maya, which was put into commission after it was handed over to the Defense Ministry at a shipyard in Yokohama, near Tokyo, the same day. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo
The government had planned to supplement this with the U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore missile defense system but scrapped the plan in June because of technical problems that would be both costly and take too long to fix.
Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, said in a statement shortly before resigning in September that Japan will “set an appropriate path” toward an alternative, as well as more far-reaching capabilities by the end of the year.
But discussions at the National Security Council have stalled, with no meetings focusing on the matter being held since Suga took office.
According to the sources, the government had suggested in behind-the-scenes talks with Komeito that long-range cruise missiles, originally meant to defend remote islands from invasion, could be appropriated to form strike capabilities against foreign bases.
But Komeito showed reluctance to accept the idea due to concerns it would be a departure from Japan’s longtime policy of not using force unless attacked first.
With any reference to strike capabilities left out of the National Defense Program Guidelines, which is slated to be revised along with the medium-term defense program, the government is exploring other ways to lay out its stance on the issue.
Suga is thought to be reluctant to make a Cabinet-approved statement on the matter, the sources said.
A Defense Ministry official said one option under consideration is a “legally nonbinding” document sorting out the relevant issues, though no decision had been reached yet.