More controversially, in his remarks Mr. Nukaga called for Japan to investigate whether it should develop a Tomahawk-like cruise missile that would enable it to strike at “enemy bases” (presumably meaning North Korean bases).
There are several problems with this idea. The first is technical. Would a Japanese strike force actually be useful as a deterrent given that North Korea’s intermediate-range Nodong missiles — the missiles that pose a major risk to Japan — are launched with difficult-to-locate mobile launchers and can be fueled on a short notice? (For more on North Korea’s missile, see this March 2006 report [pdf] from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.)
The second problem would be the impact of an independent Japanese conventional deterrent on alliance cooperation with the US. In terms of defense industrial cooperation, would Raytheon, current manufacturer of the Tomahawk, assent to Japan’s developing its own cruise missile instead of buying off the shelf from Raytheon? (This question is of particular interest because the president of Raytheon’s international division is Torkel Patterson, a Japan expert who was head of Asian affairs at the National Security Council early in the Bush administration.)
More fundamentally, how would an independent Japanese deterrent affect US deployments in Japan? Would Japanese cruise missiles make a forward-deployed US conventional deterrent unnecessary?
The third problem is the impact on the region. Japan would have a hard time convincing its neighbors that its cruise missiles are strictly defensive, and thus a cruise missile program would risk contributing to arms race with China and South Korea, not to mention North Korea. This latter difficulty is the least significant — Japan cannot predicate its security policy on what its neighbors might do in response — but at the same time it is not an irrelevant consideration.
Of course, all of this is speculative, because Japan still has a long way to go before it will be in a position to deploy an independent deterrent. For the moment, the big question remains how Japan would pay for such a deterrent, and whether the Diet would cough up the money even if it were available. I have my doubts.
At the same time, remarks like Mr. Nukaga’s are encouraging, because it means that Japanese leaders are at least thinking and talking about Japanese defense policy and how it should change as the regional and international environments change. A “normal” Japan is impossible without a sophisticated national conversation on security policy.