Japan is currently debating whether to acquire a cruise missile and build a limited preemptive strike capability. The idea has been in place in the country before North Korea began its nuclear threats. With the efforts to review Japan’s defense strategies, ruling party bigwigs are fast-tracking the moves, and defense analysts are of the opinion that Japan should consider the option.

The ruling party has proposed a possible preemptive strike and formally forwarded it to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in March for consideration, prompting a debate in Parliament.

Abe apparently avoided the controversial issue after support ratings for his scandal-laden administration increased.

The debate for a preemptive strike capability

Pyongyang’s launch of a medium-range missile on Tuesday, which flew over Japan, has heightened tension and ignited fear in the region, thereby prompting the debate. The question whether Japan should possess a preemptive strike capability has caused division along party line in the Pacific country.

Japan’s two-step missile defense system stationed in the Sea of Japan is capable of shooting down projectiles of mid-flight range, and if that should fail, the surface-to-air PAC-3s is in place to intercept missiles from within a 20-kilometer range.

Though the installation can intercept missiles or falling debris heading to Japan but would be unable to handle missiles on a high-lofted trajectory. Analysts say the setup cannot handle simultaneous attacks or warheads.

Proponents of the preemptive strike capability argue that it precede the two-tier defense system. Experts are doubtful about the capability of a preemptive strike, considering North Korea’s secretive and diversified mobile launch system which is highly difficult to track down.

A defense security expert at the Keio University, Ken Jimbo in an article stated that a preemptive strike capability could be highly expensive and would require trillions of dollars to install spy satellites, cruise missiles and also reconnaissance aircraft.

North Korea’s nuclear capability

In July, North Korean test-fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles that drew widespread condemnations from world leaders and attracted wider UN Security Council sanctions on Pyongyang.

The reclusive state also threatened to fire missiles close to the Pacific island of Guam which is a US territory and home to major military installations. North Korea has successfully developed a medium-range ballistic missile capable of hitting Japan and may have possibly acquired miniaturized nuclear warheads.

Abe described Tuesday’s missile launch by Pyongyang as unprecedented and a grave threat. Analysts in Japan say more provocative strikes by North Korea are likely and Tokyo must take necessary steps to upgrade its military and missile arsenal.