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Japan's Defense Agency Gives Thumbs Up to Missile Defense System - 2003-08-05


Japan's Defense Agency said the country needs a missile defense system to counter possible threats from North Korea.

The agency said Japan's security needs are changing and the government should to shift its focus to the growing threat of missile attack from nuclear-minded North Korea.

That assessment was published in a cabinet-endorsed defense white paper Tuesday.

The Defense Agency says Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs are among the biggest threats facing Japan. It recommends that existing research on missile defense systems be accelerated.

Japan has several dozen Patriot missiles, but they are ineffective against the ballistic missiles North Korea is developing - including the Taepodong missile, which Pyongyang test-fired over Japan in 1998.

The nearly 400-page report also calls for a reduction in traditional armored units and equipment.

The Defense Agency analysts say equipment, such as tanks, are no longer needed at the existing level because the chances of a foreign invasion have greatly diminished since the end of the Cold War.

Professor Hideshi Takesada at Japan's National Institute for Defense Studies agreeed with the white paper call for ballistic missile defense to enhance security. "Missile defense is one of the alternatives for Japan but it is not enough. At the same time, we need to strengthen the U.S.-Japan security ties. We need closer cooperation on intelligence or information," Mr. Takesada said.

The Defense Agency report also called on Japan to play a more active role in non-combat operations when its allies, such as the United States, form military coalitions, like the recent one in Iraq.

In addition, the report also recommends Japan create elite anti-terrorism commando units - skilled in urban and guerrilla warfare - as well as new capabilities to counter biological and chemical weapons.