Speed up efforts to respond to threat of new North Korean cruise missiles

North Korea’s provocations have undermined Japan’s security and the stability of its surrounding regions. The government must cooperate with the United States and South Korea to analyze the situation, and build a system that can deal with the new threat.

Pyongyang has announced that it test-fired new long-range cruise missiles on Sept. 11 and 12. The missiles flew 1,500 kilometers over North Korean territorial land and waters, along “oval and pattern-eight flight orbits,” for about two hours before successfully hitting their targets, according to the announcement.

North Korea had said it would take countermeasures after the United States and South Korea conducted joint military exercises in August. The missile launch is believed to be part of that response. Intimidating the United States and other countries through military provocations is a common tactic used by North Korea to drag counterparts to the table for dialogue.

If the announcement is true, it is Japan that will be most seriously threatened by the North Korean missiles, because most of the country is within their range, including Tokyo.

Cruise missiles are equipped with a precision guidance system that allows them to pinpoint critical facilities in other countries. Although they travel at a slow pace, they fly at low altitude and are hard to detect by radar.

If the defense authorities of Japan, the United States and South Korea were unable to detect the latest launch and did not know about it until North Korea’s announcement, the threat would be all the more serious.

North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun, the official organ of the Workers’ Party of Korea, published photos of the missile being fired from a mobile launcher and in flight. Such launchers are said to be more difficult to detect in advance than fixed launch pads.

Pyongyang has repeatedly launched short-range cruise missiles. It is not yet known how far North Korea has extended the range of the new missiles or how much their performance has been improved. Japan, the United States and South Korea must expedite efforts to ascertain the actual situation.

Most of North Korea’s past military provocations involved ballistic missile launches, which are banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions. Launching cruise missiles is itself not a violation of the resolutions — giving North Korea a loophole.

It is believed that North Korea is looking to install nuclear warheads on cruise missiles in the future. In light of the situation, the U.N. Security Council must consider tightening regulations on North Korea’s missile development.

It is important that North Korea’s missile development is recognized as a threat to the region by not only Japan but also its neighboring countries and the entire international community, including the United States and South Korea.

Japan, in cooperation with the United States, must establish a counteroffensive system to make Pyongyang understand that an attack on Japan would be costly. The government should move forward with compiling a comprehensive policy on missile deterrence.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 14, 2021.