According to Reuters, the U.S. Military’s controversial anti-missile system has reached initial operating capacity in South Korea. The news agency quotes U.S. officials as cautioning that it will still be months before THAAD is fully operational – the acronym stands for Theater High Altitude Area Defense. And, as we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, there is growing sentiment to install the system in Japan.
Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada toured the THAAD Battery on Guam in January, before this most recent crisis with North Korea and some of her predecessors say that Japan needs to upgrade both defensive and offensive capabilities. At a news conference in Tokyo last week, Former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera noted that it would take just ten minutes for a North Korean Missile to reach Japan. North Korea recently launched four at the same time, in what it said was a test of its ability to attack Japan. Onodera said it would be hours before American bombers based in Japan and Guam could respond, and that Japan needed the capability to counter strike quickly on its own.
A study group from Onodera’s Liberal Democratic Party proposed that idea last month in a paper presented to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A long range strike capability – cruise missiles, for example is highly controversial in Japan where pacifism is enshrined in the constitution. At the news conference in Tokyo, Onodera emphasized that such an ability would not be used offensively. “What we’re studying here is not a preemptive attack,” he said, “but instead a counter attack in case the enemy should attack Japan.”
The background to such radical proposals, is Candidate Trump’s questions about the value of the U.S. alliance with Japan. President Trump has reversed that stance, but both the original position and the abrupt change have made many in Japan nervous about U.S. commitments amid what’s seen as the deepest crisis since the Korean War.