THE BMD ISSUE IN NORTHEAST ASIA:
STRATEGIC RELATIONS AND JAPAN’S OPTION
by Hideshi Takesada
The ballistic missile defense (BMD) issue is attracting attention in
Northeast Asia. Why is BMD necessary? Is BMD worth spending so much
money on? These are some of the questions asked so far.
This paper aims to provide some answers to these questions by addressing
additional questions such as: how have DPRK and Chinese deployment and
development of ballistic missiles proceeded? I will focus especially
on the backdrop to which Pyongyang has developed ballistic missiles.
This paper also discusses what implications the DPRK’s missile development
has for Japan in relation to the regime’s intension and how Japan and the
ROK have perceived and dealt with the US-led missile defense initiative.
Last of all, this paper will point to the reasons for China’s opposition
to the US-led missile defense plan and conclude by spelling out what Japan
should do to deal with ballistic missile threat in the (Northeast Asian)
GROWING MISSILE THREATS
Missile development has proceeded in some parts of Northeast Asia during
the 1990s. China has developed short-range missiles and mid-range Dong
Fe 31 missiles for the last three years.(1) China would be a great missile
power by the early 21 century. China’s ballistic missiles can now target
major cities in Asia. Japan is concerned that China has not yet joined
any missile arms control and disarmament regimes.
China’s top priority has been to unify Taiwan with the mainland, and
China has placed ballistic missiles as its central force to achieve that
goal. Therefore, it is unlikely that China will abandon its development
and deployment of ballistic missiles. Even if Japan promised to China
to remain as an on-looker to the Taiwan issue, China would not stop its
missile development because ballistic missiles are China’s main weapons
for threatening Taiwan and other countries in the region anyway.
Therefore, as long as China’s missiles can target Japan, these missiles
would continue to be Japan’s security concern.
North Korea became interested in missile development in the 1960s. The
Scud B missile that the former Soviet Union supplied to Egypt was transferred
to North Korea and has become a Scud C missile. Since the late 1980’s,
North Korea has successfully upgraded missiles every 5 years. Scud B and
C missiles have already been deployed. A Taepodong 1 missile has
already been test-launched. North Korea’s Scud C missile technology has
been transferred to Iraq and Nodong missiles have also been exported to
Iraq. The Nodong’s effective range is 1,300 km and covers major military
facilities and cities in Japan, including the US base in Okinawa.(2)
Nodong missiles are not aimed at the South or the US. They are directed
to Japan. Japan does not share the threat of Nodong missiles with
South Korea and the US.(3)
Then, are these North Korean missiles only “paper tigers”? Can
we say that these are not actually credible threats and would not be used?
Is Japan being overly concerned about these threats and spending unnecessary
defense costs? North Korea has earned yearly at least US$ 300
million or at most US$ 1 billion from selling Nodong missiles to the Middle
East. This indicates that North Korea’s missile technology is now
good enough to gain foreign currency. North Korea is still highly
militarized. North Korea still encourages its military industry.
North Korea survives its economic predicament by foreign currency earned
from missile exports. As North Korea’s missiles can hit Japan, North
Korea’s missiles are a threat to Japan. Kim Jong-il says that the
military is the source of power.(4) Given that the People’s Army
is now shifting its focus to ballistic missiles, Kim Jong-il’s “source
of power” lies in these ballistic missiles. As long as Kim Jong-il
remains as the leader of North Korea and the People’s Army, ballistic missiles
will continue to exist.
However, it is important to note that Taepodong missiles are different
from Nodong missiles. Taepodong missiles can target Washington. It
is necessary to wonder if Pyongyang is ready to inflict war with Washington
by deploying Taepodong missiles. North Korea’s objective is to drive the
US military out of South Korea and unify the Korean Peninsula in its favor.
The North’s final goal is not to fight war with the US. North Korea has
gone through the Korean War, witnessed the Gulf War and the Kosovo conflict.
North Korea knows how powerful the US is. North Korea knows that
its option is now to reconcile and cooperate with the US to get the US
out of the South. What Pyongyang has meant since the 1970’s by “autonomous
peaceful unification” is to avoid war and improve relations with the US,
to peacefully drive the US military out of the region, and to achieve a
peaceful unification with Seoul through dialogues. If the US
continued to ask North Korea to abandon developing Taepodong missiles,
North Korea might say yes.
However, the more serious problem is other missiles. North Korea can
threaten Japan and US forces in Japan by launching Nodong missiles.
By resorting to Scud missiles and 13,000 conventional artillery pieces,
North Korea can destroy South Korean military facilities and US forces
in the South. These missiles are not for total war. North Korea does
not have a military to win the unification. However, North Korea
has enough military capabilities to attack Japan, South Korea and US forces
in Japan and South Korea. This indicates that North Korea can make
Japan, the US and South Korea avoid any option that would entrap them into
war with the North.
It is possible for North Korea to win negotiations by threats.
The 1994 Agreed Framework confirms this. The agreement was actually
“postponing solutions to the North nuclear issue.” North Korea’s “winning
negotiations by threats” strategy was also successful in the inter-Korean
summit meeting in June 2000. Both Koreas agreed on “self-reliant/autonomous
solutions to the Korean Peninsula issue among the Koreans” at the summit
meeting. What this means is that while the North Korean Workers’
Party’s goal of “Juche indoctrination of the Korean Peninsula” has remained
unchanged, a self-reliant unification was confirmed between the North and
the South. The agreement indicates that both Koreas have now begun
to proceed toward the form of unification that is the most agreeable to
both sides. Under this circumstance, could Japan, the US, and South
Korea still hold common ground if North Korea threatened that pushing North
Korea to abandon its missile development would lead to a military conflict
on the peninsula?
Nodong missiles are also sold to Middle East countries for their fight
against Israel. The export gives the North a means to earn foreign currency.
Taepodong’s target range is more than 3,000 km, and they could reach Europe.
This is why there is no market for Taepodong missiles in the Middle East.
Middle Eastern countries would not want to make Europeans unnecessarily
nervous. As for Scud B missiles, they cannot reach Israel from
the Middle East. They cannot reach Japan from North Korea either.
Their target range is only between 280km and 300km.(5) Given
marketability, target range, the distance between the Middle East and Tel
Aviv, and the distance between North Korea and Japan, North Korea is likely
to refine Nodong missiles and strive for mass production of the missiles.
North Korea’s ballistic missiles are also aimed to ensure North Korea’s
self-reliance and to avoid North Korea’s overdependence on China and Russia
in terms of weapons supply. These ballistic missiles are also cheap
means for North to catch up with military modernization. Thus, North
Korea’s ballistic missiles are multi-purpose, and the country is unlikely
to abandon its missile development.
WHAT DO THE NORTH’S MISSILES MEAN TO JAPAN?
Some views hold that North Korea would not attack Japan because North
Korea wants to welcome foreign investments and promote the inter-Korean
dialogue. I wonder.
First, there have been few friendly and trade relations between Japan
and North Korea. North Korea is far more likely than China and Russia to
plunge into attacking Japan. To many Japanese, at least, North Korea
has fewer reservations than others may think in terms of launching missiles
to Japan. The way the North Korean Rodong Shinmun criticizes Japan,
in fact, is one of the reasons why Japanese perceive North Korea as a threat.(6)
Second, Nodong missiles are sufficiently capable of striking Japan.
Some argue that the missile’s CEP is inferior to that of advanced countries.
However, the worse performance of the DPRK’s missile does not necessarily
ensure Japan’s security. If the missile lacks precision, then it
may mistakenly hit the center of Tokyo, which was not originally Pyongyang’s
target. Thus, the DPRK’s imprecise missiles could be even more threatening
Third, when it comes to defending against DPRK missiles, Seoul and Washington
are the only reliable partners for Japan to depend on. Certainly
Japan would strengthen its ties with the US and the ROK in times of DPRK
missile launches. However, can these three countries really reach
agreement regarding preventive diplomacy, when crises are not assessed
as imminent? For example, when North Korea test-launched a Taepodong
missile over Japan, the US thought that it would be unnecessary for Japan
to introduce its own intelligence satellites in response to such a small
scale of crisis. The US thought that Japan was overreacting to the
missile launch. The US even though that Japan’s overreaction was
due to Japan’s lack of confidence in the US nuclear umbrella.
Fourth, can Japan always coordinate with the ROK in unity at an earlier
stage of preventive diplomacy? When economic sanctions emerged as
an option against the DPRK’s nuclear suspicions, the ROK thought it would
be the last country to impose such sanctions on the North.(7) If
only Japan is targeted by the DPRK, there is no guaranteeing that South
Korea fully cooperates with Japan. If the crisis became so serious
as to undermine the ROK’s own security, Japan, the ROK and the US would
cooperate with one another. But what is important is whether they
can cooperate before that stage.
North Korean missiles threaten Japan when many factors converge.
When Japanese-DPRK relations are tense, when Japanese-ROK relations are
strained, when US-ROK relations are frictional, and when US-DPRK talks
are deadlocked, the possibility of Japan being attacked becomes higher.
When North Korean spy ships infiltrated into Japanese waters, when the
ROK was unable to provide aid to the DPRK due to the economic crisis, and
when the Bush Administration and the Kim Dae-jung Administration disagree
over the sunshine policy, are examples of when such a possibility would
The Japanese public opinion and the “we feeling” between the North and
the South may constrain Japan in the process of preventive diplomacy, deterrence,
crisis management, and damage control. The “we feeling” may make
South Korea think that Japan is using the North missile threat to justify
Fifth, one can say that because Kim Jong-il is rational, he would not
threaten Japan with his missiles. It is true that Kim Jong-il has
recently been emphasizing “new thinking,” and this may support the view
that Kim is a rational leader. (9) Kim Jong-il actually visited computer
and automobile factories in China in January. The recent performance
of Kim Jong-il looks like that of the late ROK President Pak Jong-hee,
who strived for economic development while avoiding military conflicts
with the North.(10) However, if Kim Jong-il is really rational, does
he realize the difference of threat perceptions among Japan, the US, and
the ROK? He knows how to use the South’s “we feeling.” He also
knows how to drive the US forces out of the South. He is cool-headed. He
is rational. He even knows how to keep China on its side by emphasizing
the possibility of Japan’s remilitarization.(11)
BMD, JAPAN, AND THE ROK
In the 1990s, the DPRK’s nuclear issue strengthened policy coordination
among Japan, the US, and the ROK.(12) However, there have also been
differences among these three countries. Japan is concerned about Nodong
missiles, while the US is worried about Taepodong missiles. The ROK
is more apprehensive about DPRK firearms than ballistic missiles.
These are slight, but important differences.
Japan began to study BMD, but the ROK has not decided to join the US-led
project. However, the ROK has paved the way for national production of
300km range missiles after negotiations with the US. The ROK decided to
have its own deterrent. The DPRK has mysteriously been silent about this,
but that may be because the DPRK is expecting the differences among Japan,
the US, and the ROK to further diverge.
Japan has been seeking since the 1990s policy cooperation with the US
and the ROK, strengthening Japan-US relations, Japan-ROK defense cooperation,
and dialogues with the DPRK. Discussions of defense issues became
active in the 1990s because of the DPRK military issue. Japanese
are more cool-headed toward China’s missile threat than the DPRK’s.
The DPRK’s missile issue was originally not so serious in Japan. This is
obvious in the past defense whitepapers. However, the situation has
significantly changed. The reasons include that the DPRK nuclear
suspicions are not completely gone, that a Taepodong missile passed over
Japan, and that the DPRK spy ships shocked Japan. Japan strengthened
defense cooperation with the US, and in December, Japan emphasized the
importance of intelligence satellites and referred to the spy ship infiltration
in the Cabinet-approved defense mid-term review.
Those who support BMD in Japan hold that BMD helps strengthen Japanese-US
relations. They also argue that BMD gives Japan a deterrent. BMD
could also contribute to technological innovations. There are more
benefits than costs. BMD is the only measure against incoming ballistic
missiles. BMD is defensive, not offensive. Therefore, it serves to Japan’s
policy of defense-oriented defense. Pros are based on these reasons.
Cons, on the other hand, hold that there are more costs than benefits.
BMD would (further) provoke both China and North Korea and undermine detente
diplomacy. BMD is technologically still uncertain. The most successful
BMD could still miss incoming missiles. BMD would create a huge financial
burden on the defense budget and would no doubt force the reduction in
funding in other programs critical to the JSDF. Those against BMD
in Japan base their argument on these reasons.
To South Korea, the BMD issue has a different meaning. South Korea
has held a stance that is different from that held by the US and Japan.
South Korea has not officially participated in the US-led BMD initiative.
The reasons are as follows.
First, South Korea has already been in the face of the North’s overwhelming
military threat. The North’s firearms have been the South’s problem long
before the North biological and chemical weapons emerged. Thus, North
Korea’s missile threat is not so serious to South Korea. Because
Seoul is too close to the 38 parallel line, a DPRK missile would hit Seoul
in a few minutes.
Second, given that South Korea is still in the process of recovery from
the 1997 economic crisis, BMD would be too expensive. South Korea
cannot include BMD development in its budget.
Third, South Korea does not want to provoke China. Historically
speaking, South Koreans are attached to Chinese, and this was obvious in
the 1992 establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Participation in the US-led BMD program with Japan would be meaningless
to South Korea if it were to rub China the wrong way.
Fourth, in South Korea, there is a view regarding Japan’s post-Cold
War defense increase that Japan intends to become a military hegemon in
this region. From this viewpoint, South Korea’s participation in
the BMD initiative would eventually facilitate Japan’s militarization.
Fifth, Kim Dae-jung does not want to provoke the North as long as he
is conducting the sunshine policy. To many South Koreans who feel
that inter-Korean detent is underway, the North’s and China’s missiles
seem to be less likely to attack the South.
Seoul decided not to take part in BMD. This decision has not directly
influenced Japan’s stance on BMD. Japan has the problem of exercising
the collective self-defense right. Joint research among Japan, the US,
and the ROK has many difficulties. From the very beginning, Japan’s stance
has been that joint research should be undertaken between Japan and the
US, and there is no evidence that the ROK’s decision has affected Japan’s
stance. Japan began to research BMD solely for the national security
The ROK has never argued that Japan’s research on BMD would destabilize
this region. This is because Japan and the ROK have actively cooperated
in the security area since 1990’s. For example, Japan and the ROK
have exchanged views and Track II experts. The two countries also
conducted a naval exercise, although only at a limited level, and have
strived for mutual confidence building. Particularly, the visit to
Japan by ROK President Kim Dae-jung in 1998 facilitated Japan-ROK defense
exchange and common defense perceptions.
Then, why did South Korea want to develop 300km range missiles?(13)
Below are the major reasons.
First, the missile development is compatible with the sunshine policy
because the policy allows not only “dialogue” but “deterrence” as well.
Second, the missile development gives South Korea a way out of dependence
on US in defense.
Third, because the sunshine policy has been successful, the North’s
opposition would not be so harsh.
Fourth, the missile development is cheaper than BMD, technologically
feasible, and workable in times of crises.
Fifth, BMD provokes China, but the 300km range would not stimulate China.
Sixth, the South Korean military holds that given that the North’s military
threat is still present, the South’s own missiles are necessary.(14)
To the South, the on-going policy of “deterrence and dialogue” poses
no dilemma in terms of developing its own missiles.
CHINA’S AND NORTH KOREA’S OPPOSITION
China, North Korea, and Russia are becoming more and more opposed to
the US-led theater missile defense (TMD) initiative. Especially,
China is against TMD for the following reasons.
First, TMD shakes China’s nuclear deterrence strategy.
Second, China claims that it would not first-strike non-nuclear weapons
states. (So, Japan would remain safe.)
Third, TMD could lead to Japan’s nuclear armament.
However, China has modernized its strategic nuclear weapons long before
TMD became an issue. Furthermore, although China says that TMD is
targeted at China, China’s launch of a DF 15 in the Taiwan Strait in March
1996 paradoxically justified the need for TMD.(15)
China also says that China is concerned that only Asians can stabilize
Asia and that TMD would undermine the cross-strait relations. How
should Japan respond to these arguments? In Japan, many people are still
unable to think of Japan’s security from a regional perspective.
To say that BMD has nothing to do with the Taiwan issue means to say that
BMD is directed to the Korean Peninsula. If Japan said, “TMD has
nothing to do with Taiwan,” then the Korean Peninsula would be the only
reason for Japan’s participation in BMD. The DPRK would react to this by
saying, “Japan’s TMD is directed to our missiles.” Thus, if Japan
denied the Taiwan factor, the Korean Peninsula would be the only reason
for Japan’s TMD introduction. This would pose to Japan an even bigger political
If Japan said that BMD is targeted at the DPRK, then this would undermine
the detent atmosphere on the peninsula. This would also make it harder
for Japanese-DPRK normalization talks to proceed. Referring to a
specific region or nation in justifying Japan’s security-seeking behavior
would inevitably cause political conflicts between Japan and its neighbors.
This is not what Japan wants.
The DPRK criticizes Japan’s BMD by saying that it would trigger arms
races and that it would facilitate Japan’s militarization.(16) The
DPRK’s criticism has become harsher only after summit diplomacy between
China and the DPRK became more active. In the near future, China,
the DPRK, and Russia would become more rapidly closer in opposing the US-led
The recent political and strategic situation around ballistic missiles
in this region can be summarized as follows.
First, the DPRK’s nuclear suspicions still remain unsolved and the regime
still exports its missiles to the Middle East. The missile export
is likely to continue because the DPRK’s sale of missiles development contributes
to stabilizing the domestic political system.
Second, efforts were made under the US-led Perry process to deal with
the DPRK’s missile development and deployment, but since the June 2000
inter-Korean summit meeting, the inter-Korean dialogue has been given more
importance than the US-DPRK talks.
Third, China, the DPRK, and Russia are more and more united concerning
to the US-led BMD.
Fourth, Japan and the ROK opinions slightly diverge on the US role.
Japan, the US, and the ROK still agree to maintain their policy coordination,
but the ROK is becoming more and more emphatic on the inter-Korean dialogue,
while the US still sees the US-DPKR talks as the axis of detente on the
peninsula. It is true that the sunshine policy and the US engagement
policy are basically common, but the differences seem to be becoming more
visible under the George W. Bush Administration.
Fifth, both Russia and the ROK are becoming more active in improving
relations with the DPRK and seeking a greater role. Both are using
the BMD issue to expand their respective role in the region.
Then, what is Japan’s role? There are three things Japan can do diplomatically.
Japan can strengthen policy coordination with the US and the ROK. Japan
can strengthen relations with the US. Japan also can propose a new
four-party peace talk, including both Koreas, the US, and Japan, to discuss
the BMD issue. It is not unreasonable for Japan, the US, the ROK,
and the DPRK to sit at the same table because they all are parties to the
DPRK’s missile issue. Japan, the US, and the ROK share the principle
of “deterrence and dialogue” and have developed a common policy toward
the DPRK. Food aid and the light-water reactor project represent
the dialogue side of the principle and their common policy approach. China,
on the other hand, has supplied food aid to the DPRK because the DPRK’s
missile is not a threat to China. Therefore, China cannot be party
to this new framework of four party talks. However, if the framework
began to include the issue of confidence building in the region, China
and Russia could join the talks. If the new framework were to discuss
the missile issue and food aid, the DPRK’s participation would not be so
difficult. This makes the proposal a real possibility.
Japan can do many things militarily as well. Japan should take
introducing a BMD more seriously. BMD is not perfect, but it still can
shoot down some incoming missiles. Japan can argue against anti-BMD
reasoning. There has been no logical argument in Japan that the development
of BMD be stopped. On the other hand, some view holds that Japan
should develop cruise missiles.(17) This view assumes that the policy
of deterrence and dialogue would be maintained. This view seems to
be modeled on the ROK’s policy of deterrence and dialogue.
Intelligence is also dispensable. The decision to introduce Japan’s
own intelligence satellites was a right one. Japan’s involvement
in studying BMDs reflects how Japan sees the regional missile proliferation
and how Japanese perceive threats.
It is more important to discuss the source of threats rather than to
discuss the consequences of BMDs.
(1) China has deployed DF11 and DF 15 short-range ballistic missiles
near the Taiwan Strait. The Sankei Shimbun reported that the number of
the missiles would reach 700 by 2005. See Sankei Shimbun, February 26,
(2) Nodong missiles have already been deployed. Their target range
is 1,300km. See Defense Agency, Defense Whitepaper 1999, p. 31. For an
analysis that the DPRK’s missile development has proceeded more rapidly
than western observers had predicted, see Boueinenkan 2000. For the history
of the DPRK’s development of weapons of mass destruction, see Yonhap News,
August 3, 1999.
(3) The US and the ROK are less concerned about the DPRK’s Nodong perhaps
because its target range would not threaten their security.
(4) Kim Jong-il often told those close to him, including Hwang Jan-yop,
that the military is the source of power. See Hwang Jan-yop, Kim Jong-il
Eno Sensenfukoku (Tokyo, Japan: Bungeishunju, 1999).
(5) See Boueinenkan 2000.
(6) The DPRK’s Rodong Shinmun criticizes Japan almost everyday.
(7) During the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula from 1993 to
1994, the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, along
with the US, maintained sanctions approach toward the DPRK, but the ROK
remained cautious through out the crisis.
(8) The “we feeling” emerges in the ROK whenever the North and the
South refer to the days of Japan’s colonization of the peninsula.
(9) Rodong Shinmun introduced “new thinking” and “new viewpoints” as
Kim Jong-il’s words. See Rodong Shinmun, January 4, 2001.
(10) It is well-known that Kim Jong-il is interested in Pak Jong-hee.
Kim Jong-il is also interested in high technologies. See http://www.kcna.co.jp/calendar/frame.htm,
On line Asia Times, http://www.atimes.com/koreas/koreas.html
(11) China and the DPRK often coincide to criticize Japan for “remilitarization.”
(12) This policy coordination is known as the Trilateral Policy Coordination
Group (TCOG). The group has been effective to engage with the DPRK.
(13) The ROK has concentrated on negotiations with the US on this issue
for the past four years from the viewpoint of “achieving the ROK’s own
defense.” There have been few references to the ROK’s intention on this
issue. I interviewed ROK security experts.
(14) The ROK still sees the DPRK as the primary enemy. See the ROK
Ministry of Defense, Defense Whitepaper 2000, December 2000.
(15) For the reason for China’s opposition to BMD, see Chinese People’s
Daily, March 15,2001, http://j.peopledaily.com.co./2001/03/15/jp20010315
(16) For the reason for the DPRK’s opposition to BMD, see Central News
Agency, February 11, 2001, http://www.kcna.co.jp/calendar/frame.htm. The
article titled “Anti-US NMD Signature Campaign in S. Korea” cites an ROK
non-governmental organization’s anti-US NMD movement. On February 22, 2001,
the DPRK also criticized US NMD as “a severe destruction of the peace”
and demanded that the program be abandoned. The Japanese version of China’s
People’s Daily cites the DPRK’s argument against US NMD, and especially
after Kim Jong-il’s visit to China, the DPRK’s opposition to the program
has been more visible. China’s People’s Daily also has a special report
on ABM and NMD. See People’s Daily, February 25, 2001. http://j.people.ne.jp/zhuanti
Russia also criticized the US forces in the ROK by saying that the
cost of maintaining the forces is enormously expensive. The DPRK media
also cited this. See http://www.kcna.co.jp/calendar/frame.htm Thus, the
DPRK, China, and Russia have been strengthening their opposition to the
US though their national press almost simultaneously.
(17) One Diet member from the Democratic Party argues that Japan should
have cruise missiles as a deterrent against the DPRK’s missile attack.