Any Japanese plan to possess an aircraft carrier is unacceptable and would deviate from the nation’s long-established strictly defensive national security policy.

The Defense Ministry has started considering refitting its Izumo helicopter carrier so that it can land the U.S. Marines’ F-35B stealth fighters, which can take off and land vertically.

The move is apparently linked to the planned revision of the National Defense Program Guidelines next year and the formulation of the next Midterm Defense Program.

Exhaustive debate on the idea is a must between the ruling and opposition camps during the regular Diet session to be convened in January.

The Constitution bans Japan from possessing “war potential.” Any highly offensive weapon designed solely to inflict devastating damage on the enemy’s land would run counter to the principle that Japan can only have minimum necessary self-defense capabilities.

This view has been upheld by successive Cabinets.

As examples of such weapons, the government has cited aircraft carriers for large-scale attacks, intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range strategic bombers.

But the government has also told the Diet that it is difficult to distinguish defensive weapons from offensive ones. It once said at the Diet that Japan is not prohibited from having an aircraft carrier for self-defense.

The Defense Ministry is searching for ways to win support for the Izumi refitting plan in line with these past statements. It is mulling such ideas as defining the purpose of the plan as defense of remote islands, calling the vessel a “defense-oriented aircraft carrier” and not using the term “aircraft carrier” at all.

If, however, the Izumo is changed to enable landings and takeoffs of the F-35B, the vessel can be used to refuel the U.S. stealth fighter anywhere in the world and at any time, including during military emergencies under the new national security legislation.

The refitted Izumo would be a battleship capable of attacking enemy targets, even if it is called a “defensive” aircraft carrier or something else.

Ever since construction of the Izumo was first budgeted in fiscal 2010, experts both in and outside Japan have pointed out the possibility that it may be turned into a full-fledged aircraft carrier.

But the Defense Ministry has argued that it is not an aircraft carrier and denied any plan to deploy fighter jets with strike capabilities on the Izumo.

The ministry has suddenly flip-flopped on its stance and now says it is considering the idea of refitting the ship into an aircraft carrier.

This about-face inevitably raises suspicions that the ministry has kept this plan in mind from the beginning.

We have recently seen a similar case.

When the government included money for the introduction of long-range cruise missiles in its draft budget for the next fiscal year, it said the missiles would be used mainly to defend remote islands, not for attacking enemy bases.

We feel compelled to sound the alarm about the intentions of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, which seems bent on gradually enhancing and upgrading Japan’s military capabilities by using the security threats posed by China and North Korea as pretexts.

The Abe administration’s moves appear primarily aimed at unshackling the nation from restrictions imposed by the principle of its strictly defensive security policy.

If the government’s explanations about its defense spending and weapons programs are not consistent with what they actually are, its diplomatic credibility would be seriously undermined.

Such a strategy could also lead to excessive growth in defense spending amid a fiscal crunch and even trigger a futile arms race with neighboring countries.

We are eager to hear a well-focused, in-depth Diet debate on how to defend the security of the nation while adhering to the defense-only security policy principle and harmonizing the defense programs through Japan’s diplomacy with its neighbors.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 28