Japan Support of Missile Shield Could Tilt Asia Power Balance

Posted in Other , Asia | 03-Apr-04 | Author: Norimitsu Onishi| Source: The New York Times

TOKYO, April 2 — As the United States races to erect a ballistic missile defense system by the end of the year, it is quietly enlisting Japan and other allies in Asia to take part in the network, which could reshape the balance of power in the region.

Last week, a few days after the United States Navy announced that it would deploy a destroyer in September in the Sea of Japan as a first step in forming a system capable of intercepting missiles, Japan's Parliament approved spending $1 billion this year to start work on a shield that would be in place by 2007.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon said it would sell Taiwan $1.78 billion in radar equipment to increase the nation's ability to detect ballistic missiles. Australia decided in December to join the United States-sponsored system, and American officials are holding talks with India.

But the network will eventually require the sharing of critical information and coordination among its members, which could split Asian nations into two camps: those inside and those outside the system. Those inside the system say the shield will be a defense against the missile buildup by nations like China and North Korea; those outside say it will destabilize the region and start an arms race.

China, already displeased with Japan's decision, said Thursday that the radar sale to Taiwan sent the "wrong message," and it reiterated its opposition to America's selling "advanced weapons" there. The United States has vowed to protect Taiwan against an attack by China, which has 500 missiles pointed at the island.

North Korea said Thursday that the Navy's deployment of the destroyer was preparation for war and part of its "attempt to dominate the Asia-Pacific region." Indonesia, which does not have ballistic missiles, has said Australia's decision could also ignite an arms race.

For Washington, getting its allies aboard makes it easier politically and financially to push ahead with a system that critics have described as too costly and unproven. President Bush, who withdrew from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, made a missile defense shield a campaign promise in 2000.

In Europe, Britain has signed on, but interest there has been generally tepid compared with the reception in Asia, where the missile buildup in China and North Korea, and the proliferation of nuclear technology from Pakistan, are driving the rise in the region's military spending.

Japan's role in missile defense is particularly significant because deployment could force it to alter long-held pacifist practices and re-examine its Constitution.

The immediate threat for Japan comes from North Korea, which launched a missile in 1998 that flew over Japan before it fell into the sea. North Korea has ballistic missiles that could easily strike Japan. China's successful launching of a manned space capsule last year and the increasingly frequent movement of Chinese naval vessels near Japan's territorial waters have also unnerved the Japanese.

Japan has stressed the North Korean threat, trying to persuade a skeptical China that the shield would be purely defensive.

Howard Baker, the United States ambassador to Japan, acknowledged that a shield would rob missile-armed nations of offensive power and could encourage the development of shield-piercing missiles, but he said it would not destabilize Asia.

"Missile defense is a unique military concept," Mr. Baker told reporters here on Friday. "It is inherently incapable of offensive operation. It is purely defensive. And therefore I don't think anybody should be concerned about it."

Japan would spend $10 billion in this decade to develop a two-layer shield. In the 10 minutes or so that it would take a ballistic missile fired from North Korea to reach Japan, one of Japan's advanced destroyers with the Aegis weapons system would try to intercept it by firing ship-to-air missiles. If that failed, Patriot missiles based around key cities would have a second chance to knock down the enemy missile.

To build the shield, Japan plans to modify its four Aegis destroyers by adding the interceptor, the Standard Missile-3, and by purchasing 16 new versions of the Patriot missiles. To track incoming missiles, Japan would rely on intelligence from United States satellites, but it also plans to construct a land-based radar network and a command and control system.

In the last two years, the United States has conducted five tests of its Aegis-based Standard Missile-3, completing four successfully. The United States and Japan are expected shortly to conduct joint tests of an upgraded version of the missile that would incorporate four components developed together: an infrared seeker, kinetic warhead, rocket motor and nose cone.

The first joint test is to take place in late 2005, followed by another in early 2006, said Lt. Cmdr. Alvin Plexico of the Navy, a spokesman for the Defense Department.

The production of these components — and the likelihood that they will eventually be sold to other nations joining the network — could force Japan to abandon one of the cherished tenets of its postwar pacifism: a ban on arms exports. Although Japan has long had one of the world's largest military budgets, its arms industry has been barred from exporting since 1967.

Shigeru Ishiba, Japan's defense minister, who has publicly floated the idea of rescinding the ban, said Japan would not become a "merchant of death, selling weapons all over the world to make huge profits." But he added that there might be components that could be produced only in Japan.

"We don't know how things will turn out yet," he said.

Another necessary change might be a redefinition of Japan's concept of collective self-defense. Japan has maintained that it has that right, but chooses not to exercise it because it is not allowed under its Constitution, which was imposed by the United States during the postwar occupation.

The government has argued that intercepting a missile aimed at Japan amounts to a pure act of self-defense and emphasizes that the shield will be a Japanese one. But others point out that Japan will be part of a system linking the continental United States and other friendly nations.

Complicated situations can also arise: How does Japan react if United States naval vessels in international waters are attacked, or if another country in the network is attacked?

Hideaki Kaneda, director of the Okazaki Institute here and a former admiral in the Self-Defense Force, said adopting missile defense, like sending troops to Iraq, was evidence of Japan's fundamental rethinking of its security and its desire to become a more active partner in the security alliance with the United States.

"Japan will protect U.S. troops stationed in Japanese territory" against a missile attack, Mr. Kaneda said. "This would make the nature of the Japan-U.S. alliance more mutually responsible."

The United States had been urging Japan to adopt missile defense at least since 2002, but Tokyo had hesitated until late last year, mainly out of fear of upsetting China, said Robyn Lim, a professor of international relations at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan.

"The United States's message was that it could build missile defense with or without Japan," Ms. Lim said.

In an Asia still suspicious of Japan, missile defense is the safest way to accommodate Japan's new security interests, Ms. Lim said, especially when talk of acquiring nuclear weapons is no longer the taboo it was only a few years ago.

"The Japanese are going to have to tackle the nuclear issue and the threat from North Korea one way or another," she said. "For China and the rest of Asia, it's better for Japan to do this within the framework of the U.S.-Japan security alliance."

In a meeting with Mr. Ishiba in Beijing in September, China's defense minister, Cao Gang Chuan, warned that Japan's adoption of an antimissile system would disrupt the global strategic balance and set off an arms race.

An effective shield would challenge China's military power by curbing the effectiveness of its missiles, which can now strike Taiwan or American forces stationed in Okinawa and elsewhere.

Russia said in February that it was developing a so-called hypersonic missile technology capable of piercing the United States' system.

But Mr. Ishiba said he did not believe that a shield would encourage other countries to develop missiles that would defeat the system. "If you launch a missile and it gets shot down," he said, "you give up missile production."

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