Boost 3 nations’ cooperation to enhance deterrence against N. Korea

North Korea’s test-firing of missiles is a common threat to Japan, the United States and South Korea. These three countries need to cooperate in facilitating specific ways to enhance deterrence against North Korea.

A meeting of the three nations’ foreign ministers was held in Hawaii. They condemned the recent series of missile launches by Pyongyang at a joint press conference.

Japan, the United States and South Korea compiled their first joint statement at the foreign minister level in five years. They agreed to work to expand trilateral security cooperation in dealing with North Korean issues and maintain the rules-based international order, with China’s hegemonic behavior in mind.

Collaboration among the three countries has stagnated recently due to such factors as South Korea’s Supreme Court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation to former wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula.

Amid this continuing conflict between Japan and South Korea, the fact that the three countries confirmed a policy to strengthen their cooperation for regional stability can be viewed as a step forward.

North Korea test-fired missiles seven times in January this year, including some that were believed to be hypersonic missiles. Pyongyang has hinted at resuming nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, activities that it announced it was suspending in 2018.

There is an urgent need for Japan, the United States and South Korea to work together to enhance deterrence and their response capabilities, to deter Pyongyang from taking any reckless action.

If the three nations operate their radars separately, there are concerns that they will not be able to detect the flight routes of North Korea’s missiles and other moves. If they can share relevant data swiftly, it will improve their missile defense capabilities.

The evacuation of Japanese nationals from South Korea in the event of an emergency has become an issue, but Japan is said to be unable to map out effective plans because South Korea remains reluctant to accept the Self-Defense Forces into the country.

Specific discussions on these security issues must be had among defense authorities of the three countries.

In the joint statement, the three foreign ministers pressed Pyongyang to stop its provocations and return to denuclearization talks. They also urged the international community again to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions on sanctions, including the ban on trading coal with North Korea, which is believed to be a means for North Korea to earn foreign currency.

Until now, the Security Council has not even issued a statement of condemnation against Pyongyang’s missile launches, due to opposition from China and Russia. Strategic diplomacy is needed, through such measures as the three countries of Japan, the United States and South Korea working together to persuade China and Russia.

The three nations agreed to promote the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and also stipulated in the joint statement the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. It makes sense that they have taken concerted action regarding policies to deal with China.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi met with his South Korean counterpart on the sidelines of the meeting and asked him to deal appropriately with such issues as the matter of the requisitioned workers. Action by South Korea to resolve pending issues is essential to improve Tokyo-Seoul relations in a full-fledged manner.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 15, 2022.