Japanese Politicians Want the Ability to Bomb North Korea First Before Being 'Destroyed'

A Japan Self-Defense Forces soldier works at a unit of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles at the defense ministry in Tokyo, February 12, 2017. The words at the bottom read, "Keep out." Toru Hanai/Reuters

Top Japanese lawmakers have begun arguing for the capability to launch a preemptive missile strike on North Korea in the face of Pyongyang's increasingly active ballistic and nuclear weapons programs.

In response to militant rhetoric from North Korea, a group of influential Japanese legislators has announced a public campaign to end the World War II-era restrictions, imposed on Tokyo by the U.S., that prevent Japan from initiating military action. The post-war scheme tasked the U.S. with defending Japan from foreign attack but Japanese politicians including ruling Liberal Democratic Party head Hiroshi Imazu and former defense chief Gen Nakatani have said that Japan deserves the right to defend its own interests and should acquire the means to do so.

"Japan can't just wait until it's destroyed," Imazu told The Washington Post Monday. "It's legally possible for Japan to strike an enemy base that's launching a missile at us, but we don't have the equipment or the capability."

"I believe that we should consider having the capacity to strike," Nakatani told The Washington Post.

Earlier this month, North Korea fired a barrage of ballistic missiles that landed in the sea less than 200 miles off the northwestern coast of Japan. The incident was one of the numerous military tests conducted by North Korea under leader Kim Jong Un, who has expanded his nation's ballistic and nuclear missile capability in spite of repeated U.N. Security Council sanctions and has vowed to respond to what it considered U.S. and South Korean aggression with weapons of mass destruction. The incident prompted Japan to hold its first civilian evacuation and air raid drills since World War II and bolstered the military ambitions of many leaders in a country that has been virtually pacifist for over seven decades.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has acknowledged the issue of expanding Tokyo's military capacity, telling Japan's parliament Friday that he was monitoring the discussion. Abe oversaw the purchase of F-35A stealth fighter jets last year, boosting the country's air defense and, theoretically, its offense, according to The Diplomat. Japan's existing missile defense system could reportedly handle only three projectiles at once, according to Reuters. The country has reportedly planned a $1 billion improvement to its PAC-3 Patriot surface-to-air defenses.

The relationship between Tokyo and Pyongyang has been hostile since Japan forcefully annexed the Korean Peninsula in 1910. Relations remained tense after the U.S. victory over and occupation of Japan in 1945 and the Soviet Union-backed declaration of the communist North Korean state in 1948. All three generations of North Korea's ruling Kim dynasty have accused Japan of committing war crimes during the occupation of Korea and conspiring with the U.S. and South Korea. Japan has charged North Korea with endangering its citizens through Pyongyang's militarization and state-sponsored abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.