Japan Questions Reliability of U.S. Security Info
Wed Jul 3, 2002
By Teruaki Ueno
TOKYO (Reuters) - A string of erroneous information provided by the U.S. military has raised doubts in Japan about the reliability of their key ally, prompting the government to consider bettering its own intelligence capabilities, Japanese intelligence sources said.
"Government officials and politicians in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have started to think that it's too dangerous to depend blindly on America for military information needed to protect Japan's national interest," an intelligence source said.
Security is a growing concern for the island nation given its proximity to North Korea ( news - web sites), whose naval clash with South Korea ( news - web sites) at the weekend briefly sparked fears of an all-out war.
The secretive communist state is believed to have nuclear capabilities and is still technically at war with the democratic South.
Lacking the technology to detect missile launches, Japan has depended solely on the United States for information on regional security since the end of World War II.
Japan, in turn, is an important security ally for Washington and is home to the U.S. military's biggest presence in the Asia-Pacific.
But the U.S. military has failed Japan in providing reliable information on numerous occasions during the past few years.
Apart from failing to alert Japan about a North Korean ballistic missile flying over its main island in 1998, it has provided information that simply turned out to be wrong.
The latest false alarm came on Sunday, 30 minutes before the final match of soccer's World Cup was to take place in Yokohama.
Washington warned co-hosts Japan that a missile launched by China could drop in waters near the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.
Security officials were thrown into a panic, only to have their sources take back the warning 90 minutes later, government officials said.
Last November, the U.S. military also warned Japan that a missile test-fired by South Korea could land near the southwestern island of Kyushu. It ended up landing outside Japan's territorial waters.
"Frankly, we don't want to be swung back and forth by false alarms. We're now cautious when we receive intelligence reports from the U.S. military," a Defense Agency official said, asking not to be identified.
Alarmed by the North Korean threat in 1998, Japan had drawn up plans to launch four spy satellites in a few years to help it detect the launch of ballistic missiles.
But defense experts say the satellites are not sophisticated enough and would do no better than the U.S. military in improving Japan's intelligence capabilities.
"The capability and quality of the satellites Japan plans to launch are much lower than commercial satellites," said Hideshi Takesada, head of the National Institute for Defense Studies linked to the Defense Agency.
He said Japan may consider launching better satellites and building reconnaissance planes, of which it currently has none.
Japan is also studying the feasibility of a joint multi-billion-dollar project with Washington to develop the so-called theater missile defense system (TMD), designed to shoot down incoming missiles.