A retired Japanese general said at a panel in Washington earlier this week that Japan should eye conventional deterrents to curb a military threat from North Korea.

“I prefer that [long-range strike capabilities] to protect” the home islands over building a Japanese nuclear force to counter Kim Jong-un’s regime,” retired Lt. Gen. Noboru Yamaguchi reportedly told a Brookings Institution event on Wednesday.

Yamaguchi and Narushige Michishita, a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, said that such conventional military steps included expanding long-range strike capabilities and amphibious forces and deploying the US-designed Aegis Ashore anti-missile system.

The former general, who served as the deputy commandant of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces Aviation School and other senior posts, cautioned that a large majority in Japan still oppose the nation developing its own nuclear forces.

“I am not so sure the Japanese people would go that way” in supporting the creation and fielding of an indigenous nuclear force, USNI News quoted Yamaguchi as saying.

Yamaguchi also pointed to a recent public opinion survey that found only about 12 percent of Japanese favorable to the notion of a nuclear-armed Japan.

But the retired general, who also served as a senior defense attaché at the Japanese Embassy in the US, noted that deploying long-range strike and amphibious forces isn’t cheap and that Tokyo must be mindful of the costs.

Panelists at the Brookings event noted that China’s economy is 2.5 times larger than Japan’s and can direct far more resources to defense than Tokyo.

“I don’t want to see bankruptcy,” Yamaguchi was quoted as saying. “We have too much to lose.” Yamaguchi further warned that Japan opting to build a nuclear force might also spark an arms race in the Asia-Pacific region.

Michishita noted that Japanese investment in non-nuclear military systems allows it to increase its capability in anti-access/area denial weapons in dealing with China over disputed islands in the East Sea. Expanding conventional military systems further permits Japan and the US to provide extended deterrence for South Korea, Michishita said.

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