North Korea has very few friends in the world. And of it’s friends, the only one that really matters is China who for several reasons would like to keep the hermit kingdom as, if not an outright ally, a friend with mutual interests. China uses North Korea as a strategic buffer between itself and US allies South Korea and Japan. Having a weak and dependent satellite state increases China’s influence in the region
I suspect this Chinese benevolence may be coming to an end though in light of Fat Kim’s latest crazy antics, namely having his brother publicly murdered in a Malaysian airport using VX nerve agent, and more firing off four ballistic missiles which landed very close to Japan. This has got the Japanese spooked – so-much-so that they’re giving consideration to acquiring either cruise of ballistic missiles to enable them to be able to strike back at North Korea’s missile facilities.
“If bombers attacked us or warships bombarded us, we would fire back. Striking a country lobbing missiles at us is no different,” said Itsunori Onodera, a former defense minister who heads a ruling Liberal Democratic Party committee looking at how Japan can defend against the North Korean missile threat. “Technology has advanced and the nature of conflict has changed.”
For decades, Japan has been stretching the limits of its post-war, pacifist constitution. Successive governments have said Tokyo has the right to attack enemy bases overseas when the enemy’s intention to attack Japan is evident, the threat is imminent and there are no other defense options.
But while previous administrations shied away from acquiring the hardware to do so, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP has been urging him to consider the step.
“It is time we acquired the capability,” said Hiroshi Imazu, the chairman of the LDP’s policy council on security. “I don’t know whether that would be with ballistic missiles, cruise missiles or even the F-35 (fighter bomber), but without a deterrence North Korea will see us as weak.”
The idea has faced stiff resistance in the past but the latest round of North Korean tests means Japan may move more swiftly to enact a tougher defense policy.
Any move to acquire offensive first-strike weapons by Japan rattle the Chinese leadership more than a little for the simple reason.that a weapon capable of striking North Korea could also be used against China.
Any weapon Japan acquired with the reach to hit North Korea would also put parts of China’s eastern seaboard within range of Japanese munitions for the first time. That would likely anger Beijing, which is strongly protesting the deployment of the advanced U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea.
“China has missiles that can hit Japan, so any complaints it may have are not likely to garner much sympathy in the international community,” said Onodera.
To make matters worse from the Chinese perspective, Donald Trump gives every sign of being relaxed about allowing Japan and South Korea to acquire offensive weapons. On the campaign trail he floated the idea that both Japan and South Korea should acquire nuclear weapons as a way of deterring North Korea. There are formidable obstacles to Japan acquiring an effective nuclear deterrent,namely hostile public opinion and that at present it doesn’t have a reliable delivery system.
Patalano doesn’t believe “that developing nuclear weapons is currently a better option for Japanese security than the umbrella offered by the United States. On the other hand,” he says, “it depends on the cost that the United States intends to impose for Japan to retain the current situation.”
Wallace suggests that “the most likely justification for acquiring them is as a second-strike capability to deter such a nuclear first strike, or more realistically, to prevent nuclear coercion.” Yet, he says, “here the problem is whether Japan can realistically implement a survivable and credible second-strike posture that would actually deter more than it provokes.”
Japan’s most likely option would be a second-strike capability centered on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
“Japan possesses already a good submarine force and, in principle, acquiring boats for the launch of nuclear missiles is not impossible,” Patalano says. “But the costs to maintain such a force and to develop it in a way to be an effective deterrent are, as the British experience proves, very high and demand a depth in the political debate that is currently absent.” A 2016 Genron poll found only 5 percent of Japanese support their nation possessing nuclear arms.
“Japan could produce a handful of rudimentary nuclear devices in probably a matter of months,” Wallace believes, but “the question then becomes whether the others would allow Japan to go about implementing such capabilities. One assumes that tensions would have to be quite significant for Japan to consider this option — and precisely because they are high, others may not sit quietly.”
China would surely not accept reassurances that the nuclear weapons were only to counter the North Korean threat.
However, to date Trump has made no demands on Japan relating to the cost of providing the security guarantee and indeed there are reports that his administration may send strategic bombers to the far east in response to the latest North Korean missile tests. And of course, should Japan decide to acquire a conventional strike capability, it would be relatively easy to upgrade those weapons with nuclear warheads.
China is already getting in a huff about the American deployment of the THAADS anti-missible system to South Korea. Should Japan acquire the ability to strike North Korea (and by implication China), or should either Japan or South Korea seriously consider acquiring their own nuclear deterrent, some important people in Beijing will be asking themselves and each other whether young Kim is really worth the trouble of keeping around if all he does is scares his neighbours into an arms race.