This is the question that keeps Tokyo up at night.
While a preemptive-strike capability for Japan isn’t impossible, it is more difficult than many observers realize. Building the force necessary for prosecuting an air campaign would certainly necessitate busting the 1 percent GDP cap on defense spending that Japan currently has in place, but like the prohibition on “offensive” weapons, that too is a policy matter that can be reversed. Another, less lethal national security concern is Japan’s debt problem, which is currently north of 200 percent GDP. Whatever path Japan decides to take won’t be easy.
It’s Japan’s ultimate nightmare: a RQ-4 Global Hawk belonging to Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) is watching a North Korean medium-range ballistic missile being readied for launch. The missile is being fueled, a process that can take hours. The incident follows days of incendiary North Korean rhetoric about Japan disappearing in a “wall of nuclear flames.” Reluctantly, Japan’s prime minister approves a preemptive strike designed to destroy the missile before it is ready for launch.
(This first appeared in May.)
The scenario above is fiction, particularly Japan’s ability to launch a preemptive strike. But what if Japan could launch such an attack, and what would the East Asian country require to ensure the strike was a success?
As one of the few pacifist countries in the world, Japan maintains the absolute minimum military capability to defend itself. This includes, among other things, a lack of weapons traditionally viewed as offensive in nature such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, long-range bombers and aircraft carriers. As the only country to be the target of a successful nuclear-weapons strike, it has a strong anti-nuclear-weapons policy.