Editorial: PAC-3 deployments raise tensions when diplomatic efforts should be prioritized

February 5, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) deployments should not be permitted under the justification that they are meant to counter North Korea’s announced missile launch. The important thing in this situation is to make concentrated diplomatic efforts, not raise tensions.

In response to North Korea’s recent announcement that it will launch a long-range ballistic missile, Japan’s Minister of Defense Gen Nakatani issued an order to intercept the missile. The Ministry of Defense (MOD) sent surface-to-air PAC-3 missiles to Miyako Island and Ishigaki Island. A liaison from the Ground Self-Defense Forces has been sent to Yonaguni, also.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s response to the announcement was to say, “I want to redouble efforts to ensure the safety of Japanese citizens.” However, the PAC-3 missiles will be ineffective for intercepting North Korea’s launch this time around. Therefore, it is doubtful that the goal of deploying PAC-3 missiles is actually to provide a safety measure for citizens.

If the launch goes according to North Korea’s specifications, by the time its missile reaches the airspace over Sakishima, it will be outside the earth’s atmosphere and out-of-range of the SDF’s PAC-3s. If North Korea’s plan fails and the missile explodes in mid-air, the PAC-3s will also be incapable of intercepting falling debris.

The PAC-3 missiles system is designed to intercept missiles launched at targets on the earth’s surface. In the case that debris falls from the air, its path will be unpredictable, and therefore interception by the PAC-3s will be impossible.

Military affairs critic Tetsuo Maeda pointed out that, “Whether North Korea’s missile launch succeeds or fails PAC-3s are useless [as a countermeasure].” He expressed his understanding that the MOD is putting on a performance to exaggerate the threat that North Korea poses, and insincerely demonstrate the MOD’s concern for Okinawans’ safety.

The MOD behaved similarly in 2012 when North Korea launched a long-range missile under the justification of using it to launch a satellite. At that time PAC-3s and 450 SDF personnel were deployed to Ishigaki Island, and PAC-3s and 200 SDF personnel were sent to Miyako Island. However, only a liaison group of several people had been stationed on Tarama Island, over which North Korea’s missile actually passed.

From the past behavior of the MOD we can see that PAC-3 deployment is not meant for intercepting North Korea’s missiles. It could be that the act is meant to create the perception that citizens can rely on the SDF.

Currently, Miyako-jima City and Ishigaki City residents are debating the pros and cons of SDF deployment to their locales. If PAC-3 deployment was intended to alleviate many citizens’ negative feelings toward the SDF, this plan should be abandoned.

North Korea’s missile launch announcement was a provocation toward the international community, which drew harsh criticism. However, using the announcement as justification to deploy PAC-3 missiles does not resolve anything. Our first priority should be diplomacy; acting together with the international community to encourage North Korea to exercise restraint.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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