TOKYO • Rattled by North Korean military advances, influential Japanese lawmakers are pushing harder for Japan to develop the ability to strike pre-emptively at the missile facilities of its nuclear-armed neighbour.
Japan has so far avoided taking the controversial and costly step of acquiring bombers or weapons such as cruise missiles with enough range to strike other countries, relying instead on its US ally to take the fight to its enemies.
But the growing threat posed by Pyongyang, including Monday's simultaneous launch of four rockets, is adding weight to an argument that aiming for the archer rather than his arrows is a more effective defence.
"If bombers attacked us or warships bombarded us, we would fire back. Striking a country lobbing missiles at us is no different," said Mr Itsunori Onodera, a former defence minister who heads a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) committee looking at how Japan can defend against the North Korean missile threat.
"Technology has advanced and the nature of conflict has changed."
For decades, Japan has been stretching the limits of its post-war, pacifist Constitution. Successive governments have said Tokyo has the right to attack enemy bases overseas when the enemy's intention to attack Japan is evident, the threat is imminent and there are no other defence options.
But while previous administrations shied away from acquiring the hardware to do so, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's LDP has been urging him to consider the step.
"It is time we acquired the capability," said Mr Hiroshi Imazu, the chairman of the LDP's policy council on security.
"I don't know whether that would be with ballistic missiles, cruise missiles or even the F-35 (fighter bomber), but without a deterrence North Korea will see us as weak."
The idea has faced stiff resistance in the past but the latest round of North Korean tests means Japan may move more swiftly to enact a tougher defence policy.
"We have already done the ground work on how we could acquire a strike capability," said a source with knowledge of Japan's military planning. He asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Any weapon Japan acquired with the reach to hit North Korea would also put parts of China's eastern seaboard within range of Japanese munitions for the first time.
That scenario would likely anger Beijing, which is strongly protesting the deployment of the advanced US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence anti-missile system in South Korea.