Deepening N. Korea missile threat cannot be ignored by world leaders

North Korea’s dangerous moves to improve its missile performance by repeatedly test-firing missiles cannot be left unaddressed. Japan must strengthen its cooperation with the United States to swiftly deal with the deepening threat.

Pyongyang has once again fired a suspected ballistic missile. It was part of a series of military provocations, coming just six days after another launch on Jan. 5. The missile this time is believed to have been launched eastward from an inland area and to have fallen in the sea outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

After the launch on Jan. 5, North Korea said it had test-fired a “hypersonic missile.”

Hypersonic missiles being developed by the United States, China and Russia fly at more than five times the speed of sound while changing their trajectories. North Korea regards such a missile as a core strategic weapon.

Although aspects of their technological level are unclear, analysis of the recent missile launches shows that they were fired using the engine of a ballistic missile, and that the detached warhead was modified so that it could move on an irregular trajectory.

North Korea aims to increase its threat by possessing missiles that are difficult to detect and intercept. The repeated test-firings may be a sign that development of such missiles is speeding up.

If such new missiles are deployed operationally, Japan’s current missile defense posture will be unable to adequately cope with them. This is a serious situation for Japan.

In the latest meeting of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee, also known as the 2-plus-2 security talks, involving each country’s foreign and defense chiefs, the Japanese government expressed its resolve to “examine all options” to counter missile threats, bearing in mind the possibility of possessing an enemy base strike capability. It is necessary to rapidly take specific measures for that purpose.

North Korea’s suspected ballistic missile launches are a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Despite that, China and Russia are reportedly resisting a new Security Council resolution or statement, calling it premature. It is troubling that the Security Council has failed to issue even a statement of condemnation.

The United States, Britain and France are seeking to strengthen sanctions against North Korea, while China and Russia maintain they should urge Pyongyang to participate in dialogue by easing sanctions. The dysfunction of the Security Council may encourage Pyongyang’s arrogance.

Five of the Security Council member nations, including Britain, France and the United States, together with Japan, issued a joint statement condemning the launch on Jan. 5 as “a threat to international peace and security.” There is a need to strengthen Japan’s own approach to the international community.

The joint statement said that “North Korea makes these military investments at the expense of the well-being of its people,” adding that responsibility for the serious humanitarian crisis in the country lies with the strict authoritarian regime of leader Kim Jong Un.

The only way for North Korea to rebuild its economy is to give up its nuclear and missile development.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 12, 2022.