The threat to Japan from North Korea has reached a “new stage” now that the country is capable of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile and its nuclear weapons program has advanced, a defense ministry report said today. North Korea was the main concern cited as Japan’s Cabinet approved the report, less than two weeks after the North test-fired a second ICBM that analysts say has a range that could include more of the US mainland, including Los Angeles and Chicago.
The security review came just a week after Itsunori Onodera, who was defense minister in 2012-2014, resumed that job when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revamped his Cabinet after a slew of politically costly scandals. Onodera told reporters Friday he planned to update Japan’s defence guidelines to reflect the threat from the North, suggesting he may seek an offensive missile capability.
“North Korea’s missile launches have escalated tensions both in terms of quality and quantity. I would like to study if our current missile defense is sufficient just with the Aegis destroyers and (surface-to-air) PAC 3,” said Onodera, who headed a ruling party study in March that called for beefing up Japan’s missile response capability. The ICBM North Korea tested July 30 flew on a highly lofted trajectory and landed about 200 kilometers (120 miles) off Japan’s Hokkaido island.
North Korea has been increasing the range, accuracy and versatility of its missiles and diversifying its launch sites and methods. It has conducted two nuclear tests and more than 20 missile launches over the past year alone, exceeding the total of 16 missiles launched over 18 years under former leader Kim Jong Il, the report said. “North Korea’s development of ballistic missiles, along with its nuclear program, are becoming increasingly real and imminent problems for the Asia-Pacific region including Japan, as well as the rest of the world,” it said.
The 532-page defense report also raised concerns over China’s ongoing assertiveness in air and maritime activity in the regional seas, and raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the country’s military buildup with its budget tripling over the past decade.