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Pressure on Japan to get missile shield
9 November 2002
Japan is reportedly under pressure from the United States to install a ballistic missile defence system to counter the new North Korean nuclear weapons threat.
Tokyo is within easy missile reach of North Korea, and in 1998 Pyongyang test-fired a Taepodong missile over the Japanese archipelago that splashed down in the Pacific.
The admission last month by North Korea that it had a nuclear weapons program has triggered a review of regional security in North Asia, and the US request appears to be in direct response to the new threat.
Apart from the defence of Japan, the US has its own considerable forces to protect, including elements of the 7th Fleet.
Japan's biggest newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, quoting a briefing by a senior Pentagon official, said yesterday that the US would ask Tokyo to develop and deploy a missile defence system.
The plan was to be discussed in talks in Tokyo yesterday between the US Undersecretary of Defence, Douglas Feith, and Japan's new Defence Minister, Shigeru Ishiba.
Mr Ishiba is regarded as a hawk, and recently called for further development of a missile defence program with the US.
Yomiuri reported the Pentagon official as saying North Korea had already deployed 100 Rodong missiles, which have a range of 1500 kilometres - making Japan an easy target.
Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, in Tokyo for talks with leaders including Mr Ishiba, gave his support for a missile defence system for Japan.
He said missile defence was a "component of military architecture". As long as Japan felt threatened by North Korean missiles, "it's a legitimate consideration for the Japanese to have missile defence capabilities".
Japan and the US decided four years ago to begin researching a missile defence system, following the 1998 missile scare.
The research on missile defence that Japan has been undertaking has focused on its warships equipped with the state-of-the-art Aegis combat defence systems.
In an attempt to allay concern that the move would breach Japan's war-renouncing constitution, Mr Ishiba said recently that missile defence was "nothing but a posture meant exclusively for self-defence".
Under the constitution imposed after its defeat in World War II, Japan's considerable forces are limited to a purely self-defence role. In theory, this stops Japan going to the aid of allies who are under attack until it has been directly attacked itself.
A missile defence system would also concern missile-equipped China, which is wary of a Japanese military role and further expansion of a US presence.
Washington wants a defence system to protect US territory from intercontinental missiles, and allies and forces abroad from medium-range missiles.