After North Korea’s recent missile tests over Japan, new questions have been raised about the ‘pacifist clause’ of the Japanese Constitution and the effectiveness of Japan’s missile defense strategy. How could Shinzo Abe respond?
Charles Lyons Jones writes: Just as it seemed like tensions in the Korean peninsula could not get any higher, North Korea decided to launch the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) over the Japanese island of Hokkaido. This was the fourteenth test of a ballistic missile conducted by North Korea in 2017 — leaving the country with nine operational ballistic missiles, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Of these nine missiles, only the No-Dong has Japan within its optimal firing range of between 1,200-1,500 kilometres. Given that Tokyo is a mere 1285 kilometres from Pyongyang, this is the missile that is likely to keep the Japanese Self-Defense Force on its toes.
Japan’s self-defense legislation
At present, Japan’s missile defense strategy against North Korea is focussed on ensuring a successful interception of the No-Dong medium-range ballistic missile. In fact, it may be the only North Korean missile Japan’s Self-Defense Force can intercept under domestic law. The reason for this lies in the Japanese Constitution. Written in the aftermath of World War II, Article 9 stipulates that “Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” In this sense, the Japanese Self-Defense Force is only allowed to defend against a foreign attack. This means that Japan can only intercept missiles that are due to land in its territory. Any other missile cannot be intercepted as it would constitute a “use of force as means of settling international disputes” that do not explicitly involve Japan. That is why Japan’s missile defenses are based upon interception of the No-Dong.
After understanding these legal constraints upon the Japanese Self-Defense Force, it becomes clear why North Korea’s latest missile test was so provocative. The Hwasong-12 has an optimal firing range of around 4,500 kilometres which means that North Korea will probably never fire the missile at Japan. It would be much more likely for North Korea to try and fire it over Japan en route to another destination. This is where the test of the Hwasong-12 comes in to play. By firing the missile over Japan, North Korea calculated that Japan’s elaborate missile defences would sit idle and increase the chances of a successful test. According to the Yonhap News Agency, the Hwasong-12 flew 550 kilometres above Japanese territory which meant it navigated 450 kilometres above the upper threshold of Japan’s airspace. Japan could not legally intercept the missile and North Korea likely gleaned a lot of useful data. In short, the aforementioned missile test was a rational calculation from Pyongyang.
A push for Japan to reform Article 9
However, there was one calculation that Kim Jong-un missed. By manifesting the serious issues with Japan’s missile defence strategy, Kim Jong-un has provided Shinzo Abe with a grand political opportunity. Abe can now point to Article 9 of the Japanese constitution and say that its re-interpretation needs to be finalised well before the current deadline of 2020 on the grounds that … (read more)