The ICAS Lectures


Japan's Posture of Dealing with North Korea's Threat

Yoshinari Kurose

ICAS Fall Symposium

October 13, 2017 Friday 8:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Lehrman Auditorium
The Heritage Foundation
224 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Washington DC 20002

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: Yoshinari Kurose

Japan's Posture of Dealing with North Korea's Threat

Yoshi Kurose
Washington DC Bureau Chief, The Sankei Shimbun

Thank you very much for your kind introduction. And ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honor to speak with you all from this podium.

My name is Yoshinari Kurose, a journalist working for Japanese daily newspaper called Sankei Shimbun.

For many of you do not know about Sankei, it is one of leading national newspaper in Japan, which is known for extensive coverage in politics and international affairs, as well as defense and security issues including situation in North Korea.

The paper is published in Japanese, but we also have English website called Japan Forward, where you can read some of our commentaries, analyses and news stories.

You can go to the website by typing ‘’

Also, little disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of myself, and do not necessarily reflect the views and editorial policies of Sankei Shimbun.

Now, let’s get to it

North Korea’s advancement in nuclear and ballistic missile program has drastically altered the security environment surrounding Japan.

And Japan is facing the reality that the longstanding post-World War 2 national defense policy of senshu bouei (which means strictly defensive only) is becoming irrelevant and obsolete than ever in dealing with current crisis.

First, let me point out that Japan has already been under existential threat of North Korea for past decades. Since 1990’s, their “Nodong” intermediate range ballistic missiles extended their range capability to over 1,300 km, which would cover almost entire Japan. Also, North Korea is alleged to possess 300 Nodongs, and 800 Skud missiles with range capability of 1,000 km, that are targeting Japan. And some of them are tipped with nuclear warheads.

And earlier this month, a nuclear expert released a chilling estimate regarding the cost of war in Korean peninsula.

This is according to the article published in the website “38 North.” It is a simulation based on assumption that North Korea has 25 operational nuclear tipped IRBMs at present. And that when under attack from the United States and South Korea, North Korea decides to launch its entire arsenal against both Seoul and Tokyo.

Suppose the warhead yield is 25 kiloton, and 20 missiles out of 25 survive Japanese and South Korean missile defense and detonate above both cities, fatalities would be 947,416?nine hundred fifty thousand? in Tokyo, 1,160,533 (one million and one hundred sixty thousand) in Seoul, and total of 7.7 million injuries in both cities.

Nobody wants to see that happen.

That is why Japan is bolstering its missile defense capabilities with help of the United States. In addition to present sea based SM3 and land based Patriot defense system, it plans to deploy 2 Aegis Ashore systems by fiscal year 2023.

Well, it is true that many experts say nuclear Korean War is somewhat unthinkable. In contrast to President Donald Trump’s comments calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “a mad man,” there seems to be an broad consensus in Washington policy making circle and concerned diplomatic circle that KJU is a “rational actor” and he will not resort to nuclear warfare since his main focus is survival of his regime.

Well, ongoing diplomatic and economic pressure by international community led by Mr. Trump is based on calculations that KJU is a man of rational thinking. And every effort should be made to pressure KJU to come to his senses.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strongly supports this approach, and the firm bond between Mr. Trump and Mr. Abe in tackling North Korea issue is quite assuring, raising the significance of US-Japan alliance in higher level.

Adding to that, US-Japan-South Korea trilateral cooperation is essential in pressuring North Korea.

But at the same time, I would have to mention that Japan is getting into dire straits since the recent successful ICBM tests and detonation of hydrogen bomb by North Korea.

Even if we could discount the immediate possibilities of nuclear war, we shouldn’t let North Korea blackmail us with their nuclear arsenal.

We need to contain and deter North Korea threat.

In this sense, recent events in North Korea are the important game changer not only for the United States, but for Japan as well.

In next year or two, North Korea will be able to deploy combat ready ICBM tipped with miniaturized nuclear warhead, according to various assessments.

And I would have to mentions that there is emerging concern in Japan: in case North Korea strikes Japan with nuclear weapons, can we really expect the United States to execute retaliatory attack on North Korea risking lives of their citizens in San Francisco or New York? Can we still rely on Unites States’ “extended deterrence?”

Well, I strongly believe US-Japan alliance is a cornerstone of maintaining and advancing peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region, and the United States has a strong commitment in defending Japan based on Article 5 of US-Japan Security Treaty.

Also, this type of concern is still not a big voice in Japan, and I do not have the slightest doubt that both United States and Japan is committed to further strengthen the alliance for their mutual interest in the region.

Still, I think it is always safer to have “plan B,” which is Japan to obtain the indigenous credible deterrence against North Korean nuclear threat.

For Japan it is to think out of the box of Senshu Bouei (strictly defensive only) which I mentioned in the first place.

For those of you who are not familiar with the word, it means Japan’s traditional defense policy, maintaining strictly defensive posture against its adversaries. I will explain a bit further later on, but the basic concept is, you will not fire until you are fired upon. Japan Self Defense Force’s activities are restricted to defensive nature only. It is like ordered to fight the war wearing straitjacket. The policy is based on past political decisions, and is rooted in the spirit of the pacifist constitution, which majority of Japanese citizens is supportive of amending the article which concerns Japan’s defense policy.

Also, Japan has another restriction. That is Japanese government’s “three non-nuclear principles” of not producing, not possessing and not allowing the entry of nuclear weapons into the country.

So, it is time to take off that straitjacket. Japan needs to strengthen its deterrence in totally different way.

But first, I would like to say that I will not advocate Japan going nuclear. And I would not expect that to become reality in foreseeable future.

As an only nation experienced the nuclear holocaust in 1945, there is still a strong sentiment against nuclear weapons in Japanese society. Possessing and producing nuclear weapons is prohibited by domestic law. Any official move to acquire indigenous nuclear weapon will seriously divide Japan, and no government can survive the backlash.

Also, Japan’s nuclearization will inevitably receive strong condemnations from international community, and moreover, it will further impair the credibility of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, so called NPT regime.

Furthermore, if you take into account the huge cost of developing, producing and maintaining the nuclear weapon system, this is hardly a viable option at present.

Adding to that, former US Vice President Joe Biden famously said in August last year, “we wrote Japan’s constitution to say they couldn’t be a nuclear power.” This was mentioned in the context of criticizing then presidential candidate Mr. Trump’s comment on letting Japan and South Korea acquire their own nuclear weapons.

Well, Mr. Biden’s comment was blunt, but it was to the point. It is clear that past US administrations probably since Truman as a policy did not want Japan to go nuclear.

We are not completely sure about Trump administration’s position on this issue. But if the United States wouldn’t prefer Japan to go nuclear, it would be better that the United States and Japan jointly figure out better options without Japan having its own nuclear weapons.

So, what are “plan B?”

I would like to lay out several ideas which could be considered in middle to long term.

First: United States deploy nuclear weapons in Japan.

Back in 1980’s during the cold war era, Prime Minister Helmut Schmidt of West Germany introduced US Pershing 2 IRBM to counter the threat of Soviet SS20. Mr. Schmidt’s idea was that extended deterrence from US mainland was not enough to defend West Germany. So, deployment of Pershing 2 created the nuclear parity in European front, produced the level ground for arms control negotiations, and ultimately led to Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty which took effect in 1988. Both parties agreed to withdraw their IRBMs from European theater.

This could be a great example for East Asia today in terms of pressure strategy..

And although the United States is reported to be still deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Europe as of today, situation is quite different in East Asia.

In early 1990’s under George H. W. Bush administration, United States withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea. Also, Mr. Bush ordered US navy to dismount all nuclear tipped tomahawk cruise missiles from its surface warships.

Despite the non-nuclear principle of not allowing the entry of nuclear weapons into the country, it was an open secret that during cold war era, those US navy vessels with nuclear tomahawks came in and out of Japanese ports, effectively being a deterrent to various threats.

Nuclear .Posture Review report 2010 under Obama administration mentions: “When the Cold War ended, the United States withdrew its forward-deployed nuclear weapons from naval surface vessels and general purpose submarines. Since then, it has relied on its central strategic forces and the capacity to redeploy non-strategic nuclear system in East Asia, is needed, in times of crisis. ”

Now, we are in times of crisis. I believe now is the time for the United States to deploy nuclear weapons in Japan mainland or send nuclear armed navy vessels to Japanese home ports. My hope is that upcoming NPR to push this further to seriously considering the front- deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in East Asia.

Second: Introduce the concept of nuclear sharing in East Asia.

As we know, nuclear sharing is a concept in NATO's policy of nuclear deterrence.

For example, when NATO decides to use nuclear weapon, member countries without nuclear weapons of their own would be involved. Especially, if these member countries decide to use nuclear weapons, they would provide their own forces in delivering these weapons.

So simply put, if the US and Japan agree on nuclear sharing, the US nuclear weapon would be stored in Japan under the protection of US armed forces. Japan would maintain technical equipment required for the use of nuclear weapons such as bomber planes, and in case of war, the weapons are to be mounted on Japanese warplanes.

Although the command and control of nuclear weapons remain in hands of the US armed forces, it would be expected to dramatically raise the deterrent power of Japan.

Third: Jointly develop Japan’s indigenous nuclear powered strategic missile submarine. I know this is a wild idea. But Japan has expertise of building one of most sophisticated diesel powered attack submarines in the world. With some help of the US, it can advance its submarine fleet by adding nuclear powered sub(s), capable of carrying SLBMs so that it can increase the survivability of the first strike by the adversary.

And if we could equip the sub with nuclear missile by using nuclear sharing architecture, this would be a strong pressure to North Korea. Also, this would ease the burden of the US navy submarine fleets considering the strain of the US navy caused by budget cuts and so on.

Also, in order to secure the funding, present de-facto policy cap of limiting defense budget to less than 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) should be removed.

Well I must admit that none of these are easy, but similar ideas are being talked about recently among part of defense and security circle in Japan.

Apart from nuclear related ideas, there are things that Japan can do on conventional field, such as enhance capabilities of neutralizing enemy missile bases by preemptive strike using bombers, attack airplanes and conventional missiles.

These are the thing I would like to see in long term.

But, what if there would be an immediate crisis, say like next year?

At least, that is what Abe administration is cautioning publicly.

The reason why Mr. Abe decided to hold the snap election this month is to avoid creating the political vacuum in coming year. Actually, Mr. Abe was obliged to hold the snap election before the term of lower house expires at the end of next year.

It’s hard to tell whether Mr. Abe’s prediction is accurate. Perhaps Mr. Trump shared part of his plan on North Korea with Mr. Abe. But anyway, it is true that Japan should be well prepared for the near term contingency.

So the question is, is Japan ready?

Thanks to Japan’s Legislations for Peace and Security approved in 2015, Japanese Self Defense Force became able to exercise collective self defense in limited extent.

Based on this and US- Japan Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA,) if Japanese government designates the situation that the country is under attack from foreign country resulting in threatening Japan’s survival, the SDF can provide necessary support activities to the United States armed forces in combat area , such as supply mission, refueling of combat aircraft and navy vessels. Problem is, if Japanese government stops short of designate the situation as such, in other words, if Japan is not yet under direct attack, and suddenly the fighting starts, Japanese forces must immediately cease the ongoing mission and retreat from combat area.

Also, use of force is strictly limited. According to the government guideline called “3 conditions for use of force,” which accompanies the 2015 legislations, Self Defense Force needs to fulfill all of following condition to use their force:

(1) When an armed attack against Japan occurs or when an armed attack against a foreign country that is in a close relationship with Japan occurs and as a result threatens Japan’s survival and poses a clear danger to fundamentally overturn people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,

(2) When there is no other appropriate means available to repel the attack and ensure Japan’s survival and protects its people,

(3) Use of force limited to the minimum extent necessary

Furthermore, prior approval from the parliament is necessary for use of force.

I think you understand what I meant by straitjacket.

These restrictions must be eliminated so that Self Defense Force could exercise full fledge collective defense.

The result of ongoing snap election which the voting day is October 22, is anyone’s guess. But if ruling Liberal Democratic Party led coalition secures the two tihrds majority, we can anticipate solid conservative administration for next couple of years, and pending security issues including amendment of constitution to move ahead.

We are living in very challenging time. But through this challenge, Japan has a great opportunity to transform itself, and further contribute to peace and stability of the Asia Pacific region, as well as the world.

Thank you for your attention.

This page last updated October 15, 2017 jdb