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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 14)

All News 06:53 September 14, 2020

Abe's militaristic proposal
Japan should not seek pre-emptive strike capability

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has issued a statement proposing that Japan develop the capability to stage pre-emptive strikes on enemy bases. On Friday, he stressed the need for such a capacity to defend his country against any imminent enemy attacks. As for the reasons for the first-strike capacity, Abe cited North Korea's growing missile and nuclear threats and China's stepped-up military activity in the East and South China Seas.

Yet we cannot help but express concern about the controversial militaristic proposal. It is apparently aimed at making Japan a "normal country" capable of waging war against others. Such a plan runs counter to Japan's postwar pacifist constitution that renounces the use of force to resolve international disputes.

It is inappropriate for Abe, who will step down this week for health reasons, to call for a major defense policy change. He is certainly trying to leave his legacy to the next government which is highly likely to be led by his close ally, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. Abe also suggested the new administration should devise a revised defense policy by the end of the year. It is wrong for the outgoing leader to set the timetable.

Abe seems to reveal his intention to pull the strings to make his successor continue his nationalist policies. He has failed to amend the war-renouncing Article 9 of the constitution. He may believe that Japan can neutralize the article by acquiring the pre-emptive strike ability. If adopted, this ability can allow the country to strike land targets in North Korea, China and other Asian countries even before Japan is attacked first.

The envisaged policy shift could mark an abrupt reversal of Tokyo's exclusively defense-oriented policy under its U.S.-imposed constitution which limits the use of force to self-defense. It could not only prompt a military build-up in Japan, but also an arms race in Northeast Asia. Furthermore, it could revive Japan's militarism and escalate tension in the region.

Abe tried to calm those concerns by saying the discussions on his proposal are in line with the constitution and in compliance with international law. He also said that his country's defense-oriented policy would not change at all. He made the case for greater deterrence on the part of Japan, noting that the ability to intercept missiles after they are launched may not be enough. But what he said could be seen as nothing but his nationalist ambition of reviving the "glorious past of Imperial Japan."

Abe's push for first-strike capability has gained momentum after his government gave up a plan to deploy two Aegis Ashore land-based missile interceptors because of technical reasons. But it appears not easy to acquire the capacity because it requires a huge budget to purchase long-range weapons such as U.S.-made Tomahawk missiles and other high-tech military equipment. Besides, Komeito, a dovish coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), is strongly against any offensive military expansion.

There is no doubt that Abe's proposal will have a negative effect on the peace-making process on the Korean Peninsula. A strong backlash is expected from South and North Korea. Tokyo has tried to boost its military strength by taking advantage of Pyongyang's development of ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads. But Japan should not seek the pre-emptive strike capacity if it really wants to maintain peace and stability in the region.
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