Tokyo has approved plans to buy US-made missile defense systems, citing North Korea's military technology. Japanese citizens have expressed concerns that changes to its pacifist policy could drag it into other conflicts.
Japan's Self-Defense Force uses a training exercise to show how the PAC-3 surface-to-air interceptors (shown above) function. The Aegis Ashore offer a much more advanced platform to intercept North Korean rockets.
The Japanese government on Tuesday approved plans to expand its ballistic missile defense system with a ground-based Aegis Ashore system made by the US in a bid to curb the threat posed by North Korea's latest developments in military technology.
"North Korea's nuclear and missile development has become a greater and more imminent threat for Japan's national security," said a government statement. "We need to drastically improve our ballistic missile defense capability to protect Japan continuously and sustainably."
Read more: Can North Korea's elites oust Kim Jong Un?
In November, North Korea launched a new ballistic missile that reached an altitude of more than 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles), exceeding the range of Japanese interceptor missiles operating in the Sea of Japan.
Romania was one of the first countries to be equipped with the US-made Aegis Ashore missile defense system
Self defense or war posturing?
Many Japanese citizens have expressed concerns that changing Japan's pacifist policy could drag the country into international conflicts, with mass protests opposing changes to its post-World War II pledge to renounce war.
However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has argued that a more active military helps preserve the peace amid an increased threat from North Korea and China's growing status as a global power.
Read more: North Korea: From war to nuclear weapons
After the Cabinet meeting, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera sought to alleviate such concerns, saying the sole purpose of the missile defense system is to bolster the country's defenses against an attack from Pyongchang.
"North Korea's nuclear missile development poses a new level of threat to Japan and, as we have done in the past, we will ensure that we are able to defend ourselves with a drastic improvement in ballistic missile defense," Onodera.
ls/jm (dpa, Reuters, AP)