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Japan must be getting twitchy

This item about the recent missile firing by North Korea reminds us that in all the attention currently being focused on the credit crunch and the policies of governments to deal with it, that geo-political threats cannot be ignored. It is, I suppose, all too easy to dismiss the leader of North Korea as some sort of harmless nut if you are living thousands of miles away. For the Japanese, who fear that a leader of a broken country might try something really stupid – as dictators tend to do – the situation is far less easy to shrug off. And Japan had better reckon without a blanket promise of support from the US in the future. I hope the anti-missile defence systems that Japan has installed are in good working order. Japan now has a pretty useful navy.

Not a happy situation. At all. Here’s an agency report on the rocket launch.

35 comments to Japan must be getting twitchy

  • PeterE

    I’m sure I’ve read that in absolute terms Japan is second only to the USA in terms of total defence expenditure.

  • Eric

    Japan spends more on its “self defense force” than any country in the region spends on its military. Even though the Japanese constitution prohibits offensive weaponry (which seems to mean anything that can project power), they’re pulling a bit of a fast one with the new Hyuga “helicopter-carrying destroyer” class(Link). Why would you need an offset island for a helicopter carrier? It also has vertical launch tubes for surface to air missiles, but they could easily be filled with cruise missiles as well.

  • The interesting thing is that Iran had performed a similar launch not long ago, without much ado from the same people who are now making all the noises about this one from NK. Granted, they don’t have a nuke to fit on it just yet, but they are not far from it either, seeing how chummy they are with that same NK.

  • If only there were a way to lure Godzilla to Yongbyon.

  • Expect “self-defence” nukes soon.

    Kim has no clue what the Japanese are capable of. Surprising for a Korean, sure …

  • Subotai Bahadur

    Just for giggles, you might want to note that it has been considered by some analysts a distinct possibility for a number of years that Japan is but a few turns of the wrench from having a nuclear deterrent. They have a large nuclear industry, a space program whose launchers are easily convertable to actual ICBM’s, and for a decade have had reason to distrust US defense guarantees in view of Chinese and North Korean threats, but especially in the last few days. They actually do not need ICBM’s, as 6- 1000 mile range missiles with one warhead each could provide a credible countervalue deterrent against both China and North Korea. Draw the range circles.

    Similar options exist for both Taiwan and South Korea. In fact certain deployed missiles on Taiwan, and certain defense procurement decisions over the last few years, argue that Taiwan could have a possible limited deterrent already.

    In the absence of a credible American defense umbrella, the Pacific could get rather unpleasant for all.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Andrew

    I’m personally not entirely convinced of the north korean ‘threat’. Yes, Kim Jong (or whoever is in charge now) is a nut — but I doubt he/they wants to be vaporized in an American counterattack to avenge Japan. It is a zero sum nobody will win.

    If you don’t know it by now, Pyongyang likes to play the occasional bogeyman to get (usually) UN food and cash.

    As Ron Paul said recently, it’s time for America to end both the Korean War and WW2 by letting the Pacific countries deal with their neighbors personally and stop expecting the US to fight everyone’s and their mother’s brush wars.

    North Korea will collapse under its own weight like the USSR did. And remember — Stalin and Mao both had nuclear arsenals — did we ‘send in the Marines’ then?

  • Andrew

    As an aside, I’m sure the Japanese have made contingencies for defense in case of the worst possible scenario, but I’m also amused by a fellow libertarian advocating for the American military colossus to remain in place(?). Of course, I’m just “thousands of miles away”. So what, exactly?

    Let Japan deal with Japanese issues.

  • veryretired

    Nk is a wholly owned subsidiary of China. The current lunatic allegedly in charge is about as real as the phony transmissions the NK’s are currently getting from their new satellite, which they are being told is in orbit, even though the rocket malfunctioned and ended up in the Pacific.

    What is needed, if it hasn’t happened already, is some quiet but very firm conversations with the Chinese to let them know that any attack from NK will be considered an attack from China.

    Much like the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960’s, it is faulty and dangerous to allow the fiction of NK as an independent actor to continue.

    If any buttons get pushed, they will get pushed in Peking, not in Pyongyang, and the response must be appropriate to that reality.

  • Japan is either the second or third greatest industrial power in the world. That they could have a substantial force of nuclear weapons by this time next wednesday if they wanted them is surely obvious to everyone.

  • North Korea will collapse under its own weight like the USSR did. And remember — Stalin and Mao both had nuclear arsenals — did we ‘send in the Marines’ then?

    Anyone who relies on the USA to protect them needs their head examined. Europe are fine because they face no real military threats but if South Korea thinks Obama could even find them on a world map, I’d like to sell’em a bridge in Brooklyn I own. If Obama takes US forces out that is fine by me actually: South Korea is more than capable of looking after itself. There is no upside to US forces being there in this day and age.

  • Amen.

    The American people have a parasite called the Federal Government.

    It, in turn, has gangs of foreign parasites to support — damn near every nation of the world is expecting to shake us down for something.

    Let them provide for their own damn needs. We’ve got our own problems to deal with.

  • Bogdan of Melbourne

    Veryretired, as you can see for yourself, Obama is conducting quiet but “VERY FIRM” (he, he, he) conversations with America’s potential (and real) enemies. How has it been working, so far?

  • Marc Sheffner

    The mad dictator and the “will he? Won’t he?” dominated the airwaves for the last few days here in Honda-land. I only heard about the latest 10-trillion fiscal stimulus(Link) thanks to the BBC! But it’s all going to be OK because, the Prime Minister told the FT at G20,(Link) Japan knows what to do because it’s been through it before, so just ignore that Merkel woman. If only gloom-and-doom merchants like Evans-Pritchard(Link) would shut up!

    “We don’t fully realise in the West what a catastrophic collapse Japan has suffered,” says Albert Edwards, global strategist at Société Générale. “The West has dumped a large part of its economic downturn onto Japan by devaluing against the yen.” This is about to go into reverse as Tokyo hits the ping-pong ball back across the net. “As the unfolding collapse in the yen gathers pace, the West will see its green shoots incinerated to dust,” he said.

  • Subotai Bahadur


    I do not know if you were replying to me, however what I am referring to is not a desire for an eternal American presence, but rather the fact that the existence of American security guarantees in the past did both simplify matters and cause at least a certain amount of reflection before various actors on the stage committed to actions with bad consequences. However, no American defense guarantees are worth anything, anymore.

    The problem is that the sudden nature of the breakdown of the system is forcing the hands of various nations. With a number of agitators on the scene, the results are not going to be pretty.

    Now the United States has interests in the Pacific. Whether or not we will be able to defend them now is questionable. But we sacrifice those interests at severe cost. While I would have preferred that the transition be less rushed, I have no problem with having allies, or at least friendly countries, willing and able to carry at least part of their own defense burden.

    We have seen what happens when they can’t or won’t. That is a thing called NATO. I would be more than willing to see my country negotiate with individual countries any defense cooperation we might have, or create a new organization willing to do their share.

    If I have misunderstood, and you were not replying to me, I apologize.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • mac

    As someone living in the “affected area,” I’m not worried about KJI causing any trouble. His army is pathetic; his country is undergoing a slow-motion collapse. Any day that China chose to stop actively supporting the Kim Family Regime would be its last.

    The bigger problem by far are the hordes of refugees that would be unleashed. North Koreans are starving to death as I write this. The entire country would run for the exits given the slimmest chance, although a few would stop to execute KJI and his cronies before they left.

    Perry is completely right, however, in his statement that no American security guarantee is to be trusted. Obama has a very serious war going on right now–a war against his own countrymen who aren’t leftists–and he wants no distractions from what he sees is his primary task.

    The only use he has for the rest of the world is as a cheering audience as he converts the US into a socialist state.

  • Nuke Gray!

    The laws of karma dictate that Korea will rule japan at some time in the future. Since they believe in karma, they should get it over and done with by surrendering to South Korea, and let SK protect them.

  • Laird

    Subotai, I didn’t follow your argument. What “interests in the Pacific” are you referring to? Why do they still need the U.S. to defend them? I can’t see a need for us to have a presence there other than in Hawaii. Am I missing something?

    And what was your point about NATO? Were you suggesting that we need a Pacific version of it? (Isn’t that what SEATO was? Whatever happened to it?) I would argue that NATO has long outlived its usefulness, and is now an organization in search of a purpose. It should be disbanded, not emulated. Or am I misunderstanding you?

  • Subotai Bahadur


    I think you are misunderstanding me. We have interests, as do all nations. Freedom of the seas, protection of trade, etc. And there are hostile nations who definitely mean us ill we have to deal with. We always will have to have a force to deal with threats. The interests are ours and not necessarily others’ interests.

    In reference to NATO, I was actually being snarky. I would like to see NATO disbanded, and if we find an individual country with whom we have mutual interests in defending each other, THEN we can have a treaty to that effect. And I leave open the possibility of there being a multi-lateral arrangement, with the proviso that they do their share and carry their weight. The problem is that with our collective defense treaties now, NATO especially, we do all the heavy lifting and the other countries ride free and stab us in the back at every opportunity.

    I could see engagement with Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea so long as each pulled its weight. Given the fact of the sudden collapse of the paradigm that has lasted a half century, having nuclear armed allies able to hit back themselves would be a good thing. It might induce caution in our enemies while we sort things out at home.

    The key thing is that the pattern that has worked after a fashion for so long has collapsed suddenly. There will be chaos until a new balance is reached, and perhaps open warfare in the interim. It is a time of great risk. We are going to be hard pressed to defend our own country, let along our interests overseas. Having relatively friendly nations taking up the slack is to our benefit. We cannot defend everything any more, because our National Command Authority is busy trying to re-mold our country in the Socialist mode, perhaps the National Socialist mold; but definitely not the mold intended by the Consitution. If we take on foreign commitments under this new dispensation, we have to pick and choose, carefully.

    I don’t think we are disagreeing.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • K

    I agree with Subotai about ending NATO although we might differ on reasons.

    We simply don’t know why NATO exists anymore. What war are they prepared or willing to fight? Where are they willing to exert power?

    NATO certainly isn’t the EU. In fact the EU wants its own military force but hasn’t the political power to build one.

    The real reason today for the US presence in the EU area is logistical support for such adventures as Iraq and Afghanistan.

    NATO also survives on pure inertia, it is good duty for a lot of officers and diplomats. And no one has sensed a political profit in disbanding the alliance.

    Even so, the logistics assistance is a very good reason to retain NATO provided the US is going to be perpetually engaged in military actions, often several at once, around the world.

    The US ability to very quickly and effectively go to war anywhere tends to frame international disagreements as events that can be fixed with resources and force..

    First you bomb a lot, perhaps crush an outclassed army, then you pay to rebuild everything, back your political favourites, write an new constitution, and hope.

    And sometimes it works or seems to work for a while. The US does not always fail in these matters.

    I think O will be a disaster as President because of the socialist policies Subotai mentions. But somehow, with whatever motives and from whatever logic, he senses correctly that the US must change its military posture. And the other powers must too.

    The danger is not in changing but in blundering.

    The facts are clear. The US military costs too much. Its technology is amazing but hideously expensive. Yet such superiority has decreasing utility and marginal returns.

    Information, and the ability to understand it. is the power of today.

    W/O change we will eventually get into a major mess by constantly involving ourselves in every matter.

    It probably won’t start with “some damn thing in the Balkans.” Maybe it will be “some damn thing in Georgia” as seemed rather possible only a few months ago.

  • Andrew

    Mr Subotai Bahadur,

    My comment was actually directed toward the article poster. I agree the whole situation is a sorry mess and I’m incensed when the Japanese/ROK adopt this (or have done) cavalier attitude about Pyongyang because they know that it’ll be America’s sons and daughters in range of Kim Jong’s artillery (etc).

    America has got to stop treating the Pacific countries as if they were toddlers and allow them to sort out their own houses.

    Lastly, here’s some food for thought; China used to be as, or more hardline than modern day Pyongyang. Yet, America embraced Mao and suddenly the “us against the world” mentality lost its luster.

    China doesn’t like North Korea anymore than we do, but has no interest in accelerating the collapse at the moment. (Think about having to divert resources into rebuilding a country frozen in the 1600s…)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I’m also amused by a fellow libertarian advocating for the American military colossus to remain in place(?). Of course, I’m just “thousands of miles away”. So what, exactly?

    Andrew, are you projecting? Where did I write that the US should protect Japan, South Korea, etc? I actually agree that it is high time these rich Asian nations paid for their own defence.

    It pays to read the comments rather than respond to what you imagine someone has written. It seems to be an occupational hazard of blogging.

  • Andrew

    Mr Pearce,

    Fair enough — that’s why I put a (?) at the end of the sentence, in case I had misinterpreted your comments. No offense was intended.

    Nonetheless, the Randian “kill’em all with nukes!” wing of libertarianism amuses me in a sort of tragi-comic way.

  • kentuckyliz

    I just wonder if we’re going to last the full term. Obama has sweetly proclaimed to the world that he intends to bring a knife to a gun fight.

    Like the kid who was the bully magnet.

  • Laird

    Thanks for the clarification, Subotai. I think we’re in complete agreement on this.

  • Eric

    I agree the whole situation is a sorry mess and I’m incensed when the Japanese/ROK adopt this (or have done) cavalier attitude about Pyongyang because they know that it’ll be America’s sons and daughters in range of Kim Jong’s artillery (etc).

    Eh, what? Seoul is within easy range of North Korean guns. A sudden outbreak of war would kill millions of South Korean civilians and a few thousand Americans, at most. The idea they’re being “cavalier” about conflict with the North is just stupid. It may not seem so to Americans, but I can assure you South Koreans consider their own lives to be worth every bit as much as those of American soldiers.

    They aren’t in a panic over the Norks because almost sixty years of peace has created a huge and favorable disparity between the capabilities of the two Koreas. If Kim actually decided to attack his neighbors to the South they’d dig him out of his tunnel system and lop his head off without too much effort. And they know it.

    What really gnaws at the South Korean psyche, like that of the Chinese, is the possibility the US will leave the region and the Japanese will again start to covet resources residing inconveniently in other lands. Korea and China were both sorely used by the Japanese leading up to and during WW II, and they haven’t forgotten. In that way Japan is both our trump card and our curse – leaving would immediately ignite a regional arms race.

  • Paul Marks

    Captial spending on the U.S. military has been in decline (as a proportion of the American ecnomy) for about half a century.

    However, for those who want to blame the military (rather than the creation of the Welfare State) for American fiscal woes – your time is at hand.

    Comrade President Barack Obama has ordered (via that CIA man Gates who President Bush replaced Rumsfeld with at the Pentagon) that all forms of future missile defence be vastly cut back.

    Of course it would be “paranoid” to suspect that this is because Barack Obama fears he will not be President for ever and even fears that a reactionary who has not “internalized” “transnational norms” might defeat him in 2012. And wishes to prevent such a reactionary being able to do anything to limit the rightful desires of such progressive powers as China to dominate Asia (and anything else they like).

    Barack Obama is a deeply patriotic man who is only gutting any defence programs that might help maintain American defences against major powers, because he wishes to save money (please ignore all the trillions of Dollars he is tossing about).

    And if anyone believes that Barack Obama is a patriot who just wishes to save money (as opposed to a man who was taught from his most early childhood to have a deep hatred for the West in general and the United States in particular), then I have a nice bridge to sell you.

    It has got Gothic towers and a wonderful location – just by the Tower of London.

  • Eric

    And if anyone believes that Barack Obama is a patriot who just wishes to save money (as opposed to a man who was taught from his most early childhood to have a deep hatred for the West in general and the United States in particular), then I have a nice bridge to sell you.

    To be fair, we did buy the last one.

  • While I would not dismiss Kim as a harmless fruitcake, the missile launch is a non-event. If it ever intended to launch a satellite, it failed, according to NORAD and everyone else watching. It is primitive technology, which was obsolete 40 years ago.

    To make anything more than a PR show, Kim and Co. need a missile that works (fail), a nuke (fail), and only then think about combining the two into a weapon that can scare anyone other than bleating journalists (“they can hit Alaska!!!”).

    North Korea may have some crappy plutonium, but cannot make a bomb to speak of out of it – the latest fizzle (in test conditions, where there is plenty of time to get everything right) proved as much. They have no enrichment capability, and their light water reactor is not the kind designed for yielding quality plutonium, although they have tinkered with it somewhat. Their plutonium seems to have too much Pu-240 in it for full weapons yield.

    Even more importantly, it takes more than Pu to make a weapon – like scientists, which North Korea does not produce, and cannot import. The ones they have are probably not just “morally obsolete”, but literally old. It also takes basic technology, like chips, which are not hard to buy, but not when you are dead broke. Salvaging parts from 70’s era Russian equipment only gets you so far.

    Basically, Kim has Fatman-level nuclear technology that his boys do not seem to be able to transfer from blueprint to shop; marginally improved SCUDs; ICBMs without the IC part; and a crapload of artillery pointed on Seoul, possibly with crude, but nonetheless devastating chemical payloads. South Korea has a fair bit to worry about, but Japan is safe – how do you spell “guidance system” in North Korean again? What did Saddam’s SCUDs do in the GUlf war? Diddly squat, and PAC-3 is much better than the early Patriots. An ICBM with red fuming nitric acid as an oxidizer is a joke – it would be blown up on the launching pad by any UAV.

    Kim is simply trying to stir up some publicity before the regular “negotiation” for some dollars and cognac. Ignore the poor midget.

  • Andrew


    When I was talking about the ROK being ‘cavalier’ I meant the political class. There were times before when they very much held the attitude that should the north go (any more) bonkers, then it would be Americans doing the fighting and dying — and the rebuilding — so the average ROK citizen could sit back with a coke and watch the fireworks.

    With American troops out of the DMZ, maybe it’ll force everyone there to take certain issues more seriously.

    But I do agree that there is latent hostility towards Japan in every Asian country, which is arguably warranted by the Japanese inability to acknowledge the full extent of their wartime behavior. Yet, war between China and Japan is unlikely considering the large amount of investment and trade between the two countries. War would be a disastrous venture for both, with the net result of nothing gained, large numbers of people and property lost. (Why hasn’t China simply crushed Taiwan? What does Taiwan have that would be inevitably destroyed in a military campaign…)

    Nonetheless, the point stands that these feuds are NOT American ones to get involved with.

    As an aside, I’m just surprised environmentalists haven’t embraced North Korea as the most ‘carbon neutral’ paradise on earth. No telephones, electricity, roads (for the peasants), cars, coal power stations. Heck, the country would make the Amish look positively modern! 😛

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Andrew, if you look at a Google map taken at night of the Earth, north Korea is black, while the south is a blaze of lights. That tells you everything you need to know.

  • Eric

    Why hasn’t China simply crushed Taiwan? What does Taiwan have that would be inevitably destroyed in a military campaign..

    This is a gross misreading of the situation. First of all, China hasn’t “simply crushed Taiwan” because they didn’t have the capability to do so. Until very recently China has had no way to project military power over water. No aircraft carriers, no modern submarines, and an army that relied on quantity over quality but didn’t have enough transport capability to get to Taiwan.

    All that has been changing, and at an accelerating pace. China’s military spending has been growing at least 20% per year for the last decade, and even that is probably understated because of the nature of the government. They’re building carriers, modern submarines, fast landing craft, modern aircraft, and accurate missiles. They’ve created the core of a modern army, with highly trained soldiers and modern equipment. Pentagon planners estimate that by 2010, for the first time the Chinese could take Taiwan by force if they were willing to pay the price.

    Also, it would be a mistake to rely on economic considerations to forestall conflict. Chinese people consider the very existence of Taiwan apart from China as a historical insult. There’s no doubt in my mind they will eventually invade if peaceful reunification seems unlikely. If you look at the actual composition of the forces they’re putting together all the effort is clearly directed toward that end.

  • asommer

    Why would you need an offset island for a helicopter carrier?

    It keeps options open. The japanese are probably looking at using these ships for the next 30-40 years. Why not build it in a way that keeps options open instead of closing them off?

  • Eric

    It keeps options open. The japanese are probably looking at using these ships for the next 30-40 years. Why not build it in a way that keeps options open instead of closing them off?

    Right. That’s my point. They’ve left themselves the option to spend a couple days moving some helicopters off and STOL attack aircraft on. All the infrastructure is there – elevators, fueling capability, weapon storage magazines and conveyors.Voila! Instant world-class power projection. They Hyuga is an aircraft carrier with capabilities similar to the British Invincible class. It’s not in the same class as a US Nimitz carrier, but there are only three countries fielding that kind of carrier at present. Soon to be four, maybe, depending on whether or not China refits the Varyag(Link) They’re not supposed to, but, you know…

    Oh, and something in that wikipedia article: the Chinese are rumored to have rechristened the Varyag as the Shi Lang, who was “a Ming-Qing Dynasty admiral who claimed Taiwan in 1681”. If true, that can’t be going over very well in Taipei.

  • Eric

    Mmmm. Messed that link up pretty good. Let’s try that again: Varyag