- The Washington Times - Friday, December 19, 2003

TOKYO — The Japanese government approved plans yesterday to spend billions of dollars on a U.S.-developed ballistic missile shield as part of a new approach to defense that analysts said reflects mounting wariness of North Korea.

The decision to authorize a program that will reportedly cost about $10 billion comes after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administration also launched Japan’s first spy satellites and pushed through legislation strengthening the military’s emergency powers.

Behind the buildup is concern over North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated missiles and recent revelations about the North’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Japan has been conducting research on missile defense with the United States, its main ally, for the last four years — joining the effort after North Korea shocked some analysts by successfully test-launching a three-stage ballistic missile in 1998.

In a statement yesterday explaining the government’s decision to acquire two U.S.-built weapons systems designed to knock down missiles with a range of up to 600 miles, Mr. Koizumi’s chief spokesman referred diplomatically to “the continuing proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.”

“This is not directed against any specific country,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters. “As far as Japan is concerned, it is natural that we should prepare to meet any threat.”

While signaling its determination to make missile defense a top priority, the government also hinted it was preparing to reduce spending on tanks and other types of forces once considered necessary to resist a massive conventional invasion.

The two U.S.-developed interceptors that Japan will acquire — the ship-launched Standard Missile-3 and the ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 — are components of the ballistic missile shield commissioned by President Bush a year ago.

The U.S. system, intended to defend American territory, troops and allies against attack by ballistic missiles, is scheduled to be operational by 2005.

Japan’s government said Friday it had earmarked $935 million for the first year of its program. It will spend $4.67 billion over the next four years, and media reports said the total bill could eventually reach $9.26 billion.

Analysts warned that its deployment could provoke North Korea into scaling up its missile program and make regional rival China uneasy.

“The thing to watch is how China responds,” said Tetsuo Maeda, an independent military analyst. “It’s hard to believe the government is spending all this money to deter just North Korea. This will certainly raise Japan’s military profile in the rest of Asia.”

North Korea is believed to have at least 100 intermediate-range missiles capable of striking Japan in minutes.

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