Japan’s Abe to Make Swansong Push for Missile-Strike Capability
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, bows during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan. (Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)

Japan’s Abe to Make Swansong Push for Missile-Strike Capability

Outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to make a statement on missile defense strategy that could alter his country’s security stance long after he leaves office.

Abe’s remarks Friday will include a reference to gaining the capacity to attack enemy missile bases, local media including public broadcaster NHK reported. The new policy would be within the boundaries of international law, the country’s war-renouncing constitution and its exclusively defensive national security posture, the Sankei newspaper said, citing officials it didn’t identify.

Japan’s Abe to Make Swansong Push for Missile-Strike Capability

The implementation would be left for Abe’s top aide, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who’s expected to replace the prime minister next week when he steps down for health reasons. For years, Abe has been trying to revise the constitution drafted by the U.S. after World War II, and strike capability is likely to test the limits of the document.

Facing a growing threat from the missile arsenals of China and North Korea, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party last month proposed that Japan consider missile systems that would allow the country to preemptively hit enemy rockets before they leave the pad, seeing this as a defensive move.

Acquiring such capability could cost huge sums of money and increase the likelihood that Japan would be the target of an attack. It would also require greater coordination with its sole military,the U.S., and increase risks for Tokyo of being drawn into the simmering security tensions between Washington and Beijing.

One of the last major decisions this year from the Abe government was to drop plans to build the U.S.-backed Aegis Ashore ballistic-missile-defense program. Concerns about costs and safety, as well as gaffes during the roll-out, turned public opinion against the systems from Lockheed Martin Corp.

A major problem that Japan faces is that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been modernizing his arsenal, developing solid-fuel, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that are easier to hide, quicker to deploy and designed to evade interceptors. Japan doesn’t have ballistic missiles.

Although Japan has the technology to develop an arsenal, such a move could be costly, while raising concerns in Asia about renewed Japanese militarism. Japan’s current missile-defense system relies on upper-tier interception by Aegis-equipped destroyers and lower altitude missiles being shot down by Patriot PAC-3 interceptors.

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