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Rocket and Nuclear Puzzle

In light of the tension in Korea, Tokyo is preparing for the worst

The Japanese Foreign Ministry's main foreign policy document published in April, the Blue Book on Diplomacy for 2017, states that the Japanese government condemns the buildup by North Korea of ​​its nuclear and missile capabilities as representing a "new level threat" to peace and security in Northeast Asia and International community. The book also says that Japan will work together with the United States, South Korea, China and Russia to demand that North Korea stop provoking and implement the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council.

Rocket and Nuclear Puzzle

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
It should be noted that Tokyo's official policy towards Pyongyang is to implement a "policy of dialogue and pressure," in other words, the carrot and stick method, in order to induce the North Korean leadership to abandon its nuclear missile potential. Moreover, Japan, in relation to putting pressure on the "dangerous neighbor", is not satisfied with the sanctions of the UN Security Council, uses its own economic leverage. In addition, Tokyo, along with Washington and Seoul, is calling on Beijing to do so, as it is believed that currently only trade with China allows the Kim Jong-un regime to survive. It is obvious that at present, in the light of Pyongyang's ongoing nuclear missile exercises, the "whip" has come to the fore in Tokyo's policy. This is reflected in Shinzo Abe's repeated statements that at the moment there is no point in conducting "dialogue for the sake of dialogue" with North Korea.

Meanwhile, in Japan itself, fears continue to be whipped up over the nuclear missile threat from the DPRK. Thus, according to the statement of a senior officer of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, North Korea will eventually create a miniature nuclear warhead that can be placed on a ballistic missile to strike at Japan, which will pose a great danger to the country. According to him, the North has already developed a ballistic missile, the range of which covers most of the Japanese archipelago. And according to the Prime Minister himself, the North Koreans allegedly have the poisonous gas sarin.

Japan currently has a two-tier missile defense system. It consists of destroyers equipped with the Aegis missile defense system and SM-3 missiles, as well as the Patriot ground-based system. However, according to Japanese experts, if Pyongyang launches a barrage of ballistic missiles on Japan, it will be very difficult for it to intercept all of them. Therefore, Tokyo is currently planning to acquire a more advanced version of the SM-3 missiles, as well as additionally introduce destroyers with the Aegis system. In addition, the government has begun preparations for the deployment of the Aegis ground missile defense system. If the plan is implemented, a three-tier missile interception system will be implemented.

In confronting the "North Korean threat", Japan is pinning great hopes on its main and only military ally, the United States of America. Tokyo fully and unconditionally supports all actions by Washington on the Korean Peninsula aimed at "containing North Korea." Abe received clear and unequivocal guarantees personally from the new US President Donald Trump to support his Japanese ally in the situation around North Korea. For his part, the Japanese Prime Minister not only approved Trump's statement containing the threat of the use of force that Washington has "all options on the table" with regard to North Korea, but also demonstratively participated by the ships of the Maritime Self-Defense Forces in the creation in May of the American naval fist off the coast The Korean Peninsula, led by the aircraft carrier "Karl Vinson". Later, another American aircraft carrier, the Ronald Reagan, based in Japan, joined the kulak.

And in the midst of the tension caused by the direction of the American armada to the Sea of ​​Japan, Abe was concerned that Trump made a promise that the American president would inform Japan in advance of a strike on North Korea. The promise is vital for the country, since no one doubts that in the event that military action on the Korean Peninsula is unleashed by Washington because of the inaccessibility of the territory of the United States themselves, the first targets of Pyongyang’s retaliatory strike will be their allies in South Korea and Japan.

In parallel with its foreign policy steps, Tokyo is actively preparing domestically for the country's possible involvement in a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula. At the end of April, the Japanese government conducted headquarters exercises of ministries and other departments based on the scenario of a North Korean missile falling into the country. The purpose of the exercise is to practice coordination of actions of government agencies in light of the growing public concern caused by repeated missile launches, some of which fell in the Sea of ​​Japan. And earlier in March, in Akita Prefecture, which lands on the shores of this sea, the government conducted the first exercises to evacuate residents to bomb shelters. In June, it plans to conduct a similar exercise in Yamagata and Yamaguchi prefectures. The evacuation exercise was conducted using the all-Japan J-Alert early warning system. But according to Japanese media reports, most local administrations are not enthusiastic about such exercises for fear of unnecessarily fanning fears among the population.

The fate of compatriots living in South Korea, in the event of the outbreak of hostilities on the peninsula, cries out for the Japanese leadership a big headache. An estimated 60 Japanese will need South Korean assistance in the event of an emergency on the peninsula, and Tokyo is in talks with Seoul on how to evacuate them. According to Japanese diplomats in Seoul, evacuation will not be easy if South Korea is attacked by North Korean missiles. Tokyo plans to use planes of the Self-Defense Forces to rescue the Japanese in South Korea. But Seoul does not agree to the appearance of the Japanese military on its soil. The country has painful memories of Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945, and South Koreans remain wary of the Japanese military.

In addition, the Japanese government is worried that defense cooperation between Japan and South Korea, which developed under former President Park Geun-hye, could roll back under the administration of her successor Moon Jae-in, who is more inclined to resume dialogue and cooperation with the North. This approach could lead to the resumption of the so-called "sunshine" policy towards the DPRK - negotiations and humanitarian aid, followed by South Korean presidents Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun during the period 1998-2006. This, according to Japanese analysts, could destabilize the security situation in Northeast Asia. They call for more rallying between Japan, the US and South Korea in the face of the "dangerous and unpredictable" ruling regime in North Korea.

Along with this, the Japanese Embassy in Seoul has prepared a "safety instruction" for the Japanese in South Korea. It gives advice on what to do in case of natural disasters, acts of terrorism, epidemics, etc. Now, Japanese experts believe, there is a need to improve it taking into account the nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.

The stirring up of a sense of danger in the country in connection with the nuclear missile threat from Pyongyang is already pouring into a nervous reaction of the Japanese. For example, some Japanese railway companies on their own initiative suspended their work on April 29 in connection with the announcement of the launch of a missile by North Korea. In this regard, even the South Korean media pointed out that Japan "overreacted." In particular, the Yonghap news agency criticized Japanese companies, stressing that they stopped providing services despite the fact that the launch failed and the rocket fell within the borders of North Korea. Other South Korean publications have accused Japan of resorting to fear-mongering tactics over the tensions over North Korea.

Another equation with many unknowns for the Japanese government is the problem of refugees, who, as is obvious, in the event of the fall of the North Korean regime, will massively rush not only to the South of the Korean Peninsula, to China and Russia, but also to Japan, which in their eyes seems to be “the promised land ". A government spokesman, when asked what Japan will do with the influx of North Korean refugees in the event of an emergency on the peninsula, replied: "We are deeply concerned because we have never faced such a task." The Japanese leadership is especially worried about the possibility of North Korean terrorists entering the country under the guise of refugees in order to carry out sabotage at Japanese nuclear power plants.

At the same time, the concentrated propaganda treatment of the population by Japanese politicians and the media about the "North Korean threat" leads to certain shifts in public perception of the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper on March 18-19, 64% of respondents positively assess US efforts to increase military pressure on North Korea. Only 27% of those surveyed said they did not approve of such activities. 93% said they felt threatened by Pyongyang's actions. 58% said Japan should consider gaining "the ability to strike at enemy bases before a foreign missile attack on Japan", and 35% were against it.

However, it appears that the threat of using force against North Korea in order to solve its nuclear missile conundrum is unlikely to achieve the desired result. As the Japanese commentators themselves admit, the military strike against Syria by the Trump administration in April only cemented the view of the North Korean leadership that the only guarantor of its security is the strengthening of its nuclear arsenal. As the experience of recent decades shows, the tightening of economic sanctions also does not give the desired effect, but only serves as an important argument for the North Korean leadership to convince the country's population of the need for even greater cohesion in the face of an external threat. The Japanese commentators themselves have to admit this. According to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, regarding North Korean missile launches, Prime Minister Abe said that Japan would "take concrete action" with the United States. However, according to the publication, there is really little that Japan can do, since it has imposed as many sanctions against North Korea as it is capable of doing.

Nevertheless, to all appearances, Tokyo's policy of force and economic pressure will remain the main instrument in Japan's policy towards North Korea. This, in particular, is evidenced by the G-7 summit just ended in Sicily. At it, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on the members of this structure to rally in the face of the so-called "new level threat" from North Korea. On his initiative, this moment was reflected in the final document of the summit. On the sidelines of the summit, Abe met with US President Donald Trump. At the meeting, both leaders agreed that there should be no dialogue with regard to Pyongyang, but pressure should be exerted.

It should be noted, however, that behind the policy of military and economic pressure on the DPRK from Japan, the United States and South Korea, there is no visible long-term strategy towards the North of the Korean Peninsula. After all, the consequences of a military strike or economic strangulation of the North Korean regime are unpredictable and could have a catastrophic effect on the entire region of Northeast Asia.

 With regard to Japan, according to Assistant Deputy Secretary General of the Cabinet of Ministers Koji Yanagisawa, for the sake of its own security, Japan should seek a peaceful way to solve the nuclear problem of North Korea. His views, presented in the April 20 Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, deserve to be elaborated upon.

What worries the Trump administration most of all, he says, is that the goal the administration is seeking to achieve through force remains unclear. If this is an attempt by the United States to force the regime of the North to prevent another nuclear test, then what will the Trump administration do if such a test occurs.

At the present time, Yanagisawa is convinced, not North Korea, but the United States is pursuing brinkmanship diplomacy, trying to get the desired concessions from its opponents through the threat of war. The direction of the strike group of ships led by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to the shores of the Korean Peninsula only increases the fear of North Korea. If the North feels cornered, it may give the regime grounds for a preemptive strike. And if that happens, the targets are likely to be US bases in South Korea and Japan. It is dangerous for Japan to maintain a US emphasis on show of force. The country must adhere to its current purely defense-oriented policy.

He also believes that if limited military strikes are launched against North Korea to defeat its nuclear capabilities, it will trigger Pyongyang's "limited" retaliation. For its own well-being, Japan must have an alternative non-military plan to allay North Korea's fears about the United States. Pyongyang needs an alternative guarantee for its survival. If it is impossible to prevent him from building up a nuclear arsenal, then there is no need to give him any reason to use these weapons. The international community must seize every opportunity for dialogue, Yanagisawa concludes.

The hope for a peaceful outcome of the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula comes from a statement by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at a press conference at the Pentagon in May. The hawkish US minister said that any military solution to the North Korean crisis would be "a tragedy of incredible proportions," and noted that the US was working on the international stage to find a diplomatic solution. For this, the minister stressed, we are working with the UN, working with China, working with Japan, working with South Korea to try to find a way out of this situation. "

In general, it is obvious that at present there is no alternative to a peaceful solution of the problem of the nuclear missile potential of the DPRK. Only in this way can stability in Northeast Asia be guaranteed and the security of all countries of this region ensured.
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