Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Yoichi Shimada

【#870】Japan Required to Build Offensive Capabilities

Yoichi Shimada / 2022.01.12 (Wed)

January 11, 2022

A ballistic missile fired by North Korea on January 5 was a new type that flew 500 kilometers at an altitude of up to 50 kilometers and at more than five times the speed of sound, according to an analysis by the Japanese Defense Ministry. It will be a matter of time before North Korea deploys nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles that can reach Japan. China has also been developing such missiles rapidly on a larger scale.

Outdated “exclusively defensive posture”

We must not ignore the fact that it is almost impossible for existing technologies to intercept hypersonic missiles flying on irregular trajectories during their final flight stage. As far as nuclear missiles are concerned, the time has come for the offensive side to have a dominant advantage. In such offense-dominated age, narrowly defined defense cannot work. Any country has no choice but to demonstrate retaliatory capabilities to deter enemy attacks. This means that offensive capabilities must be developed to counter potential attacks.

Japan’s slogan of “exclusively defensive posture” can stand only in a defense-dominated era when, for instance, the defensive side can defend itself by throwing rocks to enemy troops creeping up castle walls. If Japan sticks to the ideology of exclusively defensive posture and the illusion of effective missile defense, it may end up wasting precious defense expenditures, as is the case with France that built the Maginot Line against Germany before World War II but saw the expensive defense line broken easily.

In order to deter an attack from a dictatorial regime particularly, it will be decisively important to have capabilities to cause intolerable damage to its command center. It may be reasonable for Japan to deploy highly survivable submarines armed with a minimum number of powerful penetrating missiles that would neutralize an enemy leadership with minimizing collateral damage to the people nearby. This is close to a deterrence strategy adopted by nuclear-armed Britain. Politicians who seriously care about the safety of the people should enter into such discussion.

Small-scale, survivable deterrence capabilities

Even ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s lawmakers who support having capabilities to attack enemy bases have argued, with reluctant public opinion in mind, that the only difference by having such capabilities is to block incoming missiles within enemy’s territory instead of Japan’s territory and that the capabilities fall within in the framework of exclusively defensive posture.

Ironically, however, this argument has been shot down by pro-China groups, who insist that the idea of targeting missile launchers is outdated now that mobile launchers have become common. These groups’ argument is essentially unfaithful because their real intention is to refrain from provoking China with plans to develop Japan’s own deterrence. In fact, however, it will require a huge budget and thus financially impossible to develop and maintain a system to monitor mobile missile launchers constantly and neutralize them instantly.

Japan needs to abandon the framework of exclusively defensive posture and develop survivable deterrence capabilities, albeit small ones, to lead any country to believe that its command center would be destroyed if it attacks Japan. Britain, based on a similar idea, will never be called an “irresponsible militarist country.”

Yoichi Shimada is a senior fellow and Planning Committee member, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and a professor at Fukui Prefectural University.