Former Japanese defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, who is considered a likely prime minister, on Sunday said Tokyo should have the ability to deliver a preemptive strike against its enemies.
The comments came amid mounting threats of a missile launch by North Korea and resurgent Chauvinist sentiment in Japan.
Ishiba, the second-highest-ranking member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said in a TV interview that preemptive strikes against enemy bases in order to prevent ballistic missile attacks "legally constitute self-defense."
Under its pacifist postwar constitution, Japan is prohibited from launching a first strike against its enemies and is allowed to retain a military only for self-defense.
Japan does not have any long-range missiles that can deliver a preemptive strike. But Ishiba said, "It would be too late to come up with a response after North Korea fired its missiles and tens of thousands of people have died."
On Saturday, he also said that since North Korea has threatened Japan with a missile attack, Tokyo would be allowed to defend itself by striking first.
Ishiba's stance is shared by a growing number of Japanese politicians who feel their country must develop a long-range cruise missile capable of attacking North Korean missile bases. Ishiba said steps to revise the constitution are aimed at giving Tokyo the ability to launch a preemptive strike and the right to wage war against its enemies.
North Korea has threatened to attack Aomori Prefecture, Misawa city and Okinawa, which house U.S. military bases, warning that the "sparks of war" would hit Japan first.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that North Korea's belligerence is boosting support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plans to bolster Japan's military power.
Takehito Yamamoto at Waseda University said North Korea's threats have "severely weakened" repulsion felt by Japanese about bolstering their military.