From the Wall Street Journal
TOKYO -- Japan's move Friday to deploy missile interceptors is the boldest challenge North Korea faces so far to its plan to launch a rocket in the next few days.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said he ordered the deployment of missile interceptors to Japan's northern coast to prepare to shoot down the rocket and any debris that could fall on Japanese territory. It was the first such order Japan had issued, a ministry spokesman said.
North Korea said it will launch a rocket carrying a satellite between April 4 and April 8, and warned that fragments could fall into the Sea of Japan between the two countries as well as southeast of Japan in the Pacific Ocean.
Japan and its allies suspect the rocket is a new long-range missile, and have demanded that Pyongyang cancel the plan. A launch would violate United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed in 2006 after North Korea tested a long-range missile.
A military truck with parts of land-to-air missiles from Iruma Air Base, north of Tokyo, arrives at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo Friday. Japan mobilized against possible threats from North Korea's planned rocket launch.
Any action Japan takes would be restricted to shooting at material that threatens to fall on Japanese land or sea. Nevertheless, the move is a bold one for Japan, which has a pacifist constitution that strictly restricts its military to measures of national defense.
Japan is particularly worried about North Korea because of its proximity to the rogue nation. After Pyongyang's launches in recent years, Tokyo imposed sanctions on North Korea and pushed the U.N. Security Council to enact further sanctions. At the time, Japan didn't have the missile-defense capabilities it has today.
Analysts say that by warning that it will intercept a rocket or debris, Japan is walking a fine diplomatic line between cautious preparation at home and tough talk to put North Korea on notice -- without antagonizing the country. Japanese defense officials say that while they don't expect debris or a rocket to fall on the nation, they will do everything possible beforehand to protect the nation by preparing for such an event.
Before the 2006 tests, North Korea didn't emphasize, as it has this time, that it will be launching a space rocket.
In recent years, Tokyo has expanded its military role. It has sent noncombat troops to Iraq and has a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean that supports U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The U.S., which Japan relies on for its defense, has to proceed cautiously. U.S. diplomats are now dealing with North Korea's arrest of two U.S. journalists on the North Korea-China border on March 17.
The U.S. has been leaning against trying to shoot down the North's projectile and a senior U.S. official this week said the administration has ruled it out.
The Japanese government said two destroyers carrying sea-to-air missiles would also be deployed in nearby waters, joining U.S. and South Korean warships in the area.