Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Let's Try This, One More TIME

TIME magazine blogs has a post (E) about the government's possible use of the Self Defense Forces' anti-ballistic missile capabilities should North Korea proceed with its planned rocket launch.

I here reproduce the TIME text, with my annotations.
TOKYO – Japan knows just what to do if North Korea goes ahead with a thinly disguised test of a new ballistic missile next month: shoot the @#$! thing down.

Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka told Diet members Monday that “We will take the (necessary) procedures in the event of a contingency that threatens our country’s security,” and pointed out that Japan has Patriot PAC-3 and Aegis destroyers that could do the job. Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces began deploying Patriot batteries to Japan’s southern islands today.
What Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki has said is that he is thinking about giving the order to shoot down the rocket, pending the prime minister's approval. In the event of pieces of the rocket falling or such a similar contingency (implictly, the rocket falling as a whole) in a manner threatening Japanese territory, the SDF under existing law can attempt an intercept of the threatening material. (J)

Not exactly "Shoot the @#$! thing down."
The Japanese are still traumatized by a 1998 test in which nuclear-armed North Korea lobbed a ballistic missile directly over the home islands. The incident prompted the Japanese to join the US in missile-defense R&D, and it remains a cornerstone of Japanese defense policy.

North Korea said Friday it will attempt to put an Earth observation satellite into orbit sometime in April. But that’s seen as a cover for a testing a long-range ballistic missile, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, of course. Technically, the launch would violate UN Security Council Resolution 1874. Tokyo could claim it was enforcing the mandate, although it does not authorize use of force.
First, the nuclear anachronism. In 1998, North Korea was not nuclear-armed. Yongbyon's spent nuclear fuel rods were under IAEA seals until 2002. The DPRK did not claim to have weaponized the plutonium it extracted from the fuel rods until 2004. It did not carry out a nuclear test until 2006.

Second, according to the Ministry of Defense, cooperation with the U.S. on BMD research began in 1978. At the same time, Japan was asked to prepare facilities for U.S. BMD systems on Okinawa. (J)

Third, a launch of a space vehicle does not violate UN Security Council 1874. The North Koreans know this. That is why they are calling the launch a space vehicle launch.

Fourth, Tokyo cannot claim it is enforcing the mandate if the resolution does not authorize the use of force.
North Korea said the missile will be fired in southerly a location, which means Tokyo-ites won’t see contrails flying overhead. Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that the missile would pass over Okinawa or other southern islands.

Whether the Japanese could actually take out the missile would depend on whether an Aegis destroyer or Patriot battery were in the right place. The Patriot missile travels has a published range of about 70 kilometers.

If Japan does try to take out the missile, it would be its first shot fired in anger since World War II. That’s one reason it’s unlikely to happen. In addition to annoying the North Koreans, it could also make the Chinese and South Koreans — ever suspicious of Japan — nervous.
The "first shot in anger" statement is true only for the SDF. The Maritime Self Defense Force's predecessor, the Coastal Safety Force, had a gun battle with a Soviet spy ship off the coast of Hokkaido in 1953. So Japan has fired shots in anger.

Shooting down a space-bound vehicle would more than just "annoy" the North Koreans. That I can assure you.

Why would Japan firing a defensive missile at a rocket make the Chinese and the South Koreans any more nervous about Japan? Japan is already deeply bought into BMD. Japan has liquid and solid-fueled rockets capable of boosting payloads into space. Now that capacity represents a threat to China and South Korea, but it is one that has existed for a long time.
Japan has conducted tests of the Patriot and Aegis systems, but has never fired at a real ballistic missile. That’s another reason the Japanese are unlikely to make good on the threat, says Ralph Cossa, president of Honolulu-based Pacific Forum CSIS: “It would be embarrassing if they missed.”
Part of the testing of the Aegis-linked Standard III system has been the intercepting of missile warheads over the Pacific. Those were real missile warheads. If by "real" the writer meant "in battle" - well, he should have said so.

Cossa's comment on how embarrassing it would be should the SDF's anti-ballistic missile systems miss their target makes sense only if Japan fires willy-nilly at a rocket headed in its direction, which would be akin to an act of war. Since the rules of engagement outlined by the Minister of Defense preclude a rash and unnecessary act, the comment is superfluous. If the Standard III and Patriot systems miss their target and a piece of or a whole rocket lands in Japanese territory, with consequent damage or casualties, the result would be a lot worse than merely embarrassing to the SDF.

An academic of great standing recently complained to me about blogs, how even the ones with editors allow any idiot with a computer and an opinion to vomit forth some perverse piece of nonsense, which thanks to the the low cost of computer storage and search is kept alive, rendering the world just a little bit stupider, non erit finis.

What can I say?


sigma1 said...

Not to mention that the 2002 sinking of the NK spy ship was also considered to be Japan's "first shot fired in anger" since WWII.

MTC said...

sigma1 -

The Japan Coast Guard has always had, to my understanding, free use of its weapons, unlike the MSDF which had to have the PM's approval. So the JCG have always been the "shoot first and there'll be no questions later" force.