Monday, July 10, 2006

Japan Considers Strike Against N. Korea

Officials say they are looking at whether the country's constitution would permit this.
"If we accept that there is no other option to prevent an attack ... there is the view that attacking the launch base of the guided missiles is within the constitutional right of self-defense. We need to deepen discussion," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said.

Japan's constitution currently bars the use of military force in settling international disputes and prohibits Japan from maintaining a military for warfare. Tokyo has interpreted that to mean it can have armed troops to protect itself, allowing the existence of its 240,000-strong Self-Defense Forces.

A Defense Agency spokeswoman, however, said Japan has no attacking weapons such as ballistic missiles that could reach North Korea. Its forces only have ground-to-air missiles and ground-to-vessel missiles, she said on condition of anonymity due to official policy.

Note that Japan has been pushing for a UN Security Council vote on sanctions against Korea, but agreed not to push for a vote today. (Other cable stations are now reporting that the vote has officially been postponed.) China (a delegation from which arrived in Korea today officially to celebrate their 45-year-old friendship treaty) and Russia have indicated that they were likely to veto a Security Council resolution, and South Korea also is strongly opposed.
South Korea, not a council member, has not publicly taken a position on the resolution, but on Sunday Seoul rebuked Japan for its outspoken criticism of the tests.

"There is no reason to fuss over this from the break of dawn like Japan, but every reason to do the opposite," a statement from President Roh Moo-hyun's office said, suggesting that Tokyo was contributing to tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

It seems clear to me that Japan's discussion of a pre-emptive strike is largely chain-rattling at this point, designed more to spur movement on the diplomatic front. Given the geopolitical and other realities in that area of the world, any precipitate action on Japan's part is far more likely to worsen the situation and certainly will not solve the longer-term issues.

It is an understatement to say that the situation with North Korea is both a dangerous and a tricky one, so one cannot possibly overstate the need for cooler heads to prevail. As much as we might all like Japan--or the U.S.--to find an immediate way to stop North Korea in its tracks and defuse the threat, this really may not be our hand to play, at least not unilaterally, and certainly not when taking the larger geopolitical context and history of the region into account.

When the balance is a delicate as it is in this sort of situation, sudden, hard pushes may unleash a whole series of events that may dwarf the specific threat, however terrible and dangerous, that we're trying to address.

No matter how frustrating it is, a (relatively) slow and steady course guided by cool and cautious heads should be the order of the day.