Japan's outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday the government, under his successor, will come up with a new plan for dealing with missile threats by the end of the year.
While there will be no change in the country's exclusively defense-oriented policy under the pacifist Constitution, growing regional threats including from North Korea have called for a review of security policy, Abe said in a statement released just days before he is to leave office.
The move comes after the government in June scrapped a plan to deploy the land-based, U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore missile defense system for technical problems and began considering an alternative to the costly system.
"I believe we must improve our deterrence and reduce our country's risk of attacks by ballistic missiles and other means," Abe said.
"While holding sufficient discussions with the ruling parties, (the government) will set an appropriate path within the year to deal with the difficult security environment surrounding Japan," he said in the statement released in his personal capacity and without Cabinet approval.
He later told reporters that while his successor, who will effectively be chosen in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's leadership election on Monday, strictly speaking is not bound by the year-end deadline, he is sure they will continue debate on the matter.
Abe had indicated his desire to set the policy direction on whether to acquire a strike capability against missile bases in other countries even before he announced late last month he is resigning for health reasons.
But Komeito party, the LDP's junior coalition partner, has remained skeptical about possessing such a capability, given its controversial nature under the country's war-renouncing Constitution.
The government started full-fledged discussions last month on ways to counter ballistic missiles after an LDP team called for the "possession of the ability to intercept ballistic missiles and others, even in the territory of an opponent."
Defense Minister Taro Kono said Wednesday during an online event with the Center for Strategic and International Studies that he and others at the National Security Council are discussing ways to make the country's deterrence stronger, including considering improving the strike capability with the United States.
Abe's statement did not mention the National Defense Program Guidelines or medium-term defense program, both of which are expected to be revised by the end of the year.