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Japan to Deploy US-Made Missile Defense System - 2003-12-19

The Japanese government has announced plans to deploy a U.S.-made missile defense system, and to work with the United States to develop the system further. The decision is in response to growing fears about North Korea's weapons development.

Japan will begin installing its missile defense system next year. The government says the system will then be refined in cooperation with the United States. The decision, which Japan has been considering for months, was made Friday by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet and security advisors.

Tokyo says it needs the system, costing an estimated $6.4 billion to protect against potential attacks by ballistic missiles or weapons of mass destruction. Japan says its existing defenses cannot adequately cope with these threats.

In a bid to calm other Asian nations' concerns about Japanese militarism, government Spokesman Yasuo Fukuda told reporters, the goal of the shield is solely to protect Japanese citizens.

He says the system is entirely defensive, and poses no danger to neighboring countries.

Japan has grown increasingly concerned about the threat from nearby North Korea, which has ballistic missile capability and a nuclear weapons program. A missile launched from North Korea would take just a few minutes to reach downtown Tokyo.

The concerns began in 1998, when North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan. The missile landed harmlessly in the ocean, but it shocked Japanese officials, who had been unaware that the communist North possessed this capability. Worries mounted last year with the revelation that the North Koreans had an active nuclear weapons development program.

The defense system Japan plans will have two parts: Sea-to-air missiles, launched from high-technology Aegis warships, and an upgraded version of the U.S.-made Patriot land-to-air missiles, which Japan already has in place.

The government also said Friday that it will conduct a review of its defense capabilities. That is likely to include a review of Japan's ban on producing arms for export, which could be revised to allow for closer cooperation with the United States.