On Point

The North Korean Missiles Behind The Elvis Summit

by Austin Bay
July 5, 2006

The scene had a decidedly surreal quality: Before an amused and startled crowd that included President George W. Bush, a rock star-struck Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi crooned in The Jungle Room of Elvis Presley�s Graceland Mansion,

Koizumi performed a karaoke-influenced interpretation of Elvis� �Love Me Tender,� then, strumming an air guitar, mimicked the King of Rock n� Roll�s version of �The Battle Hymn of the Republic.�

Pop celebrities, homage to Elvis, an international mocker gawking with affable goofiness�the television cameras couldn�t get enough of the public kitsch.

However, the real story of this summit is cement, not kitsch, the cement of a solid 21st century American-Japanese alliance.

As the Cold War faded in the early 1990s, several Japanese opinion leaders questioned the US-Japan relationship. With Russia no longer an immediate threat, development of Siberia�s natural resources enticed Japan, and in that game America represented competition. US military bases on Okinawa were a particular thorn.

Many Americans carped that wealthy Japan failed to carry its fair-share of the defense burden�ironic, given Japan�s constitutional military limitations imposed by the US after World War Two.

But times change and so do threats.

The six North Koran missiles fired on Tuesday are big news but they aren't the strategic shocker. The shocker occurred in August 1998 when Pyongyang tested a long-range ballistic missile. That launch revitalized the United State-Japanese alliance and blew away any legitimate arguments that the U.S. could wait to develop and deploy ballistic missile defenses.

Pyongyang's 1998 test shot demonstrated that Japan and the US � and for that matter, Europe-- are vulnerable to rogue missile attack, and it's utterly false to argue otherwise. It meant U.S. diplomacy and the world economy are potential hostages to missile blackmail by regional tinpots.

Japan got North Korea�s message. The Japanese also observed China�s steady military modernization and concluded the logical, most impressive, and most reliable �strategic balance� to China is the US.

Japan and the US began discussing a �joint ballistic missile defense shield� that would protect Japan, Alaska, and Hawaii. Of course such a system would also provide South Korea with a degree of protection as well as the continental United States.

On June 23 of this year, the US and Japan signed an agreement to jointly produce anti-missile missiles, The agreement formalized the existing (though often behind-the-scenes) cooperation on anti-ballistic missile (ABM) technology.

US and Japanese military cooperation includes surveillance and tracking operations. A new early-warning X-Band radar system is located at a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force�s base in Tsugaru, Aomori Prefecture. A US spokesman said the radar would gather critical data if North Korea conducts a ballistic missile test launch this summer.

The US will send several batteries of Patriot PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability-3) anti-theater ballistic missiles to protect Okinawa. The PAC-3, unlike the Patriot PAC-2 of the 1991 Gulf War, is a true anti-missile missile. However, its range is limited and it is ineffective against long range, high speed inter-continental ballistic missiles. Still, the PAC-3 will add to a �layered� ABM defense which includes interceptor missiles on board US Aegis cruisers and the handful of long-range ground based interceptors located in Alaska and California. If the situation dictates, Okinawa-based Patriot batteries can quickly move to Japan and South Korea.

In May the Honolulu Bulletin reported that the Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie successfully intercepted a target missile using an improved US Navy Standard-2 interceptor missile. The Lake Erie also test-fired an advanced Standard-3 ABM. Japan has destroyers with the Aegis radar system, which can detect and track ballistic missiles. The Japanese destroyers would operate as electronic eyes for a regional ABM system.

The US and Japan are also exploring ways more effectively integrate US and Japanese ground forces. The Japanese military has participated in overseas operations and gained experience. For two years Japan deployed 5500 troops in Iraq, and they served quite effectively with other coalition forces.

North Korea recently threatened �annihilating strikes and nuclear war� if the US launches a pre-emptive attack on Pyongyang�s missile and nuclear weapons facilities. Bluster? Possibly--but SCUDS splashing in the Sea of Japan say otherwise. If bluster turns to bombs, Washington and Tokyo intend to be ready.

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