Japan, US Discuss Offensive Weapons for Tokyo

Japan, US Discuss Offensive Weapons for TokyoJapan, US Discuss Offensive Weapons for Tokyo

Japan and the United States are exploring the possibility of Tokyo acquiring offensive weapons that would allow Japan to project power far beyond its borders, Japanese officials said, a move that would likely infuriate China.

While Japan's intensifying rivalry with China dominates the headlines, Tokyo's focus would be the ability to take out North Korean missile bases, said three Japanese officials involved in the process.

They said Tokyo was holding the informal, previously undisclosed talks with Washington about capabilities that would mark an enhancement of military might for a country that has not fired a shot in anger since its defeat in World War Two.

The talks on what Japan regards as a "strike capability" are preliminary and do not cover specific hardware at this stage, the Japanese officials told Reuters.

Defense experts say an offensive capability would require a change in Japan's purely defensive military doctrine, which could open the door to billions of dollars worth of offensive missile systems and other hardware. These could take various forms, such as submarine-fired cruise missiles similar to the US Tomahawk.

US officials said there were no formal discussions on the matter but did not rule out the possibility that informal contacts on the issue had taken place. One US official said Japan had approached American officials informally last year about the matter.

Japan's military is already robust but is constrained by a pacifist Constitution. The Self Defense Forces have dozens of naval surface ships, 16 submarines and three helicopter carriers, with more vessels under construction. Japan is also buying 42 advanced F-35 stealth fighter jets.

Reshaping the military into a more assertive force is a core policy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He has reversed a decade of military spending cuts, ended a ban on Japanese troops fighting abroad and eased curbs on arms exports.


Tokyo had dropped a request to discuss offensive capabilities during high-profile talks on revising guidelines for the US-Japan security alliance which are expected to be finished by year-end, the Japanese officials said. Instead, the sensitive issue was "being discussed on a separate track", said one official with direct knowledge of the matter.

But any deal with Washington is years away and the obstacles are significant – from the costs to the heavily indebted Japanese government to concerns about ties with Asian neighbors such as China and sensitivities within the alliance itself.

The Japanese officials said their US counterparts were cautious to the idea, partly because it could outrage China, which accuses Abe of reviving wartime militarism.

The officials declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the closed-door deliberations. A Japanese Defense Ministry spokesman said he could not comment on negotiations with Washington.

Japan would need US backing for any shift in military doctrine because it would change the framework of the alliance, often described as America supplying the "sword" of forward-based troops and nuclear deterrence while Japan holds the defensive "shield".

Washington did not have a position on upgrading Japan's offensive capabilities, "in part because the Japanese have not developed a specific concept or come to us with a specific request", said another US official.

"We're not there yet - and they're not there yet," the official said. "We're prepared to have that conversation when they're ready."