TOKYO -- Japanese lawmakers showed support Thursday for developing new systems to head off missile threats in enemy territory, recognizing the limits of an approach that relies purely on intercepting incoming attacks.
The draft recommendation approved by a team in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party does not specifically mention striking enemy bases -- a topic that has been debated since June, when plans to deploy the Aegis Ashore land-based missile shield were suspended -- but implicitly encourages Japan to develop such capabilities.
The proposal stresses the need for "integrated air and missile defense" capabilities that can protect all of Japan at the same time. The current system, centered on Aegis-equipped ships, cannot provide such coverage.
The lawmakers urge continuing the "sword and shield" dynamic of the U.S.-Japan alliance while creating a stronger overall deterrent against threats. They also call for improving Japan's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
The LDP proposal will be submitted as early as August to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, which will accelerate National Security Council talks on related issues, including alternatives to Aegis Ashore and the question of whether to acquire enemy base strike capabilities. Officials will set a policy direction by September.
Options for base strike capabilities include air-to-surface missiles launched from fighter jets and long-range cruise missiles from Aegis-equipped ships. Though such systems might become quite expensive if all the necessary equipment is owned by Japan, Tokyo could cut costs by tapping its alliance with the U.S., such as using the American military's satellite-based early warning system.
The language used by the LDP team -- "the ability to head off missiles in enemy territory" -- is broader than that found in two previous recommendations that discussed strikes on "strategic bases" and "enemy base counterattack capability."
Base strikes alone are less effective as a deterrent than they once were, now that mobile and submarine-based missile launchers -- which are not tied to a fixed location -- are more widespread. "Enemy territory" encompasses these alternative launch sites.
As North Korea and China develop new weapons that are harder to intercept via traditional methods, the LDP proposal essentially urges the government to consider a wider range of options than in the past.
The term "enemy base strikes" itself risks being misinterpreted overseas. Defense Minister Taro Kono was asked last month by a foreign reporter whether Japan was exploring preemptive-strike capability. Preemptive attacks that are not in response to an immediate threat may violate international law.
But the proposal is unclear on exactly what defense methods the new term refers to, and even some on the team who wrote it called for an explanation of what it means.
Japan considers strikes on enemy bases in response to an imminent threat to be in line with its war-renouncing constitution if no other options are available. The government is now considering what options are available within the bounds of this interpretation.