Japan must review its crisis management amid growing threat from North Korea

North Korea’s push to diversify its missile arsenal as a means of delivering nuclear weapons in defiance of criticism from the international community has become clear once again.

The Japanese government must face up to the growing threat and strengthen its response.

Pyongyang announced that it has test-fired at least one new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), presumably referring to the missile launched from eastern North Korea on Oct. 19 that followed an irregular trajectory and fell into the Sea of Japan.

North Korea started test-firing SLBMs around 2015 using an underwater facility. This time, Pyongyang claims the missile was launched from a submarine. It said it has introduced new control and guidance technology. There is a possibility that its missiles have become smaller and their performance has been improved.

Operational deployment of the missiles would give North Korea the ability to retaliate from submarines, even if its land military capabilities were destroyed. The move may be intended to deter attacks from the United States and other countries.

In addition, since September this year, North Korea has test-fired a series of missiles, including long-range cruise missiles.

There has been no change in North Korea’s strategy of strengthening and diversifying its nuclear weapons to show its ability to counter U.S. military power and gain an advantage in negotiations with the United States. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who is the general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, emphasized that his country’s most important objective is possessing an “invincible military capability.”

North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons violates U.N. Security Council resolutions. It can no longer be allowed to continue unchecked.

The Security Council did not even issue a statement condemning the missile launches that Pyongyang has been conducting since September. China and Russia’s stance of obstructing measures that put pressure on North Korea may have made Pyongyang grow more arrogant.

The five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — must unite and implement tough measures against North Korea.

Senior officials in charge of North Korean issues from Japan, the United States and South Korea shared information on the latest launch in Washington. It is important for the three countries to make efforts to work closely to strengthen pressure on Pyongyang.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, expressing awareness that North Korea has been significantly improving its nuclear and missile-related technology, stated emphatically that the situation cannot be overlooked from the perspective of security for Japan and the region.

In order to strengthen deterrence, it is necessary to establish a system to prevent missile attacks, with an eye to possessing counterattack capabilities.

When the latest launch occurred, both Kishida and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno were campaigning outside Tokyo for the upcoming House of Representatives election. The lack of a sense of urgency is problematic given that the top two officials in charge of crisis management were not at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Unforeseen situations, including disasters such as major earthquakes, can occur at any time. The government should reexamine its preparedness for emergencies.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 21, 2021.