Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has described the increasingly tense situation surrounding North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs as a “national crisis” and cited the need to ride out this crisis as a reason for dissolving the Lower House for a snap election.

Despite his attempt to make it the principal focus of the election campaign, however, there has not been much in-depth debate over the issue among parties.

That’s not surprising given that all parties including opposition groups basically support the notion that Japan should implement economic sanctions and other measures to punish North Korea’s evil acts, acting along with the U.N. Security Council.

The government’s emergency actions to protect the lives and safety of the people are matters that should be considered in a cool-headed nonpartisan debate insulated from partisan warfare as much as possible.

Abe’s move to cast the issue as a rationale for calling an election has raised serious doubts about his judgment.

The problem is that the government is offering no workable plan for effective negotiations with North Korea that should be pursued in parallel with pressure on the country.

Abe has been placing lopsided emphasis on the importance of applying strong pressure to Pyongyang. This tactic is inevitably seen as a ploy to garner votes by stirring up a sense of crisis among the public unless he also talks about a road map toward a peaceful solution to the situation.

In his address to the recent U.N. General Assembly session in New York, Abe said, “We consistently support the stance of the United States that ‘all options are on the table,’” which means Washington keeps the option of military actions open.

He also said, “What is needed to do that is not dialogue, but pressure.”

Many candidates of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) would support military action against North Korea by U.S. forces, according to a Kyodo News survey.

During the first Korean Peninsula crisis in the 1990s, the U.S. military considered strikes on North Korean nuclear facilities but dropped the idea as massive casualties, including many civilian deaths, were projected.

Now that North Korea possess far more advanced nuclear and missile technologies than it did back then, damage from attacks on the country would be incomparably greater.

What is required of political leaders now, above all things, is to make serious efforts to defuse the situation through peaceful measures, even if that requires a long time.

Abe has also referred to the need to ramp up pressure on North Korea to prod it into seeking dialogue by promising to change its policy of developing nuclear arms and missiles.

Unfortunately, however, considering the course of events leading to the current state of affairs concerning Pyongyang’s weapons ambitions it is clearly very difficult to extract a significant change from the secluded country through stronger pressure alone.

Abe has cited a successful example of pressure against the country in the past when Pyongyang came out for dialogue after China temporarily halted fuel supplies.

But researchers are divided on whether North Korea actually succumbed to pressure.

The focus of attention is now on whether China will change its policy toward North Korea after the ongoing Communist Party congress.

But Beijing could risk losing its influence over North Korea if it applies too much pressure on the isolated regime. There is a limit to what China can do to change the situation.

Solving the North Korea conundrum is a formidable diplomatic challenge because the interests of many countries concerned are at stake and complicated geopolitical dynamics are at play.

That means a single-minded pursuit of a simple and rigid strategy is quite risky.

Political leaders in both the ruling and opposition camps need to confront the tough reality of the situation and offer some deep wisdom that can help improve it.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 20