TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -Japan’s efforts to acquire US missile defense systems under the pretext of a North Korean strike have sparked concerns in Moscow. Experts believe the weapons might be deployed with an eye on Russia and China.
Japan insists that its decision to boost its ballistic missile defense systems by approving the purchase and deployment of two Aegis Ashore units is driven by the “urgent threat” posed by Pyongyang. The US made system, expected to be operational by 2023, was approved in December and cost Tokyo $2 billion.
Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera’s statement that Japan could use the Aegis Ashore not only against ballistic missiles, but also to intercept a greater range of weapons such as incoming cruise missiles have raised serious concern among its neighbours.
The system’s deployment is likely more to do with concerns over China and Russia, believes Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian Studies at the Temple University in Japan.
“Clearly the most urgent threat is from Pyongyang so that is driving this decision but this deployment has wider implications given concerns about China and Russia given their more advanced capabilities,” he told RT via email.
Dr. Joseph Gerson, the president of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security argues that a potential North Korean missile attack which Tokyo claims to be defending itself against is in fact “unlikely,” although not completely impossible. He added that Japan’s missile program is seemingly “designed to defend the island nation and US military bases from possible future Chinese or Russian missile attacks.”
A former Australian diplomat says Tokyo is exploiting tensions in the region to justify its own military buildup.
“Of course, Japan will say [the missile defense program] is just directed against North Korea, when everyone knows the chances of North Korea seeking to attack Japan are minimal,” said Gregory Clark, a former Australian diplomat and a specialist in international relations and security.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe needs these tensions to justify the defence legislation overhaul he advocates, as well as to enhance Japan’s military capabilities and its role abroad. Such a policy pushes him right into the arms of the US, and makes Japan an active supporter of American military strategy in the region and beyond, Clark explained.
“Incidentally, Mr. Abe is making a totally unnecessary visit to the Baltic states to show his support for US and NATO policies in Europe,” he added.
This policy could also potentially put Tokyo on a collision course with Moscow, he warns. He said the US missile defence systems could become a “matter of adding weight to and contributing to overall Western policies” that involve “putting pressure on alleged adversaries, including Russia.”
The deployment of the Aegis Ashore system in Japan could push Moscow into even closer cooperation with Beijing aimed particularly at countering pressure exerted by the US and its allies, Clark said, and could possibly torpedo Russian-Japanese negotiations over the disputed Kuril Islands.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the systems deployed in Japan could be used for offensive purposes under the full control of Washington.
Lavrov’s statement comes on the heels of a Japanese media report stating that the missile defence systems were particularly designed to be a deterrent against Russia in the region, and that its deployment fits in with Washington's strategy of countering Moscow. The report cited an unnamed Japanese defence official who said the missile systems’ deployment was aimed at “curbing” Russia’s missile capabilities “to its east.”
Moscow doubts Japan’s claims that the missile systems would be controlled by Tokyo.
“We have heard that it will be Japan that will allegedly operate this system, and the United States will have nothing to do with it, but we have serious doubts that it is so,” Lavrov said Monday.
Aleksandr Zhilin, a retired Russian Armed Forces colonel and a military reporter, believes such concerns are justified. It's highly unlikely that Japan would control the US missile systems, he told RT, adding, that all such statements to the contrary are apparently designed to serve as a disguise. The US is behind the deployment and it clearly does so with an eye on Russia and China, he said.
Apart from being an apparent deterrent against Russia and China, the deployment of the US-made Aegis Ashore missile defense systems in Japan has another far-reaching implication that could further worsen an already tense security situation in the region. These systems could presumably be used both as a cover for and as a means of a pre-emptive strike by the US and its allies.
“Given that so-called missile defenses can also serve as the shield for first strike swords, neighbouring nations will understandably see missile defences as potentially offensive weapons,” said Gerson. The deployment would mark another step in a regional arms race that only increases tensions and puts regional powers on the brink of a “catastrophic war,” he warns.