N. Korea’s latest ICBM launch worsens threat of nuclear strike

The threat of North Korea’s nuclear missiles has further increased. It can be said that the situation has entered a new phase. Japan, the United States and South Korea must take the situation seriously and move to improve deterrence and increase pressure on North Korea.

North Korea launched a missile believed to be a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile toward Japan.

The missile was launched at a higher-than-normal angle in a “lofted trajectory,” reaching an altitude of more than 6,000 kilometers. It traveled 1,100 kilometers in 71 minutes and landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone off the west coast of Hokkaido.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida strongly condemned the launch and expressed his intention to cooperate with the United States, South Korea, and other countries regarding future measures, including sanctions against North Korea.

With the international community busy responding to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, a dangerous launch that could shake regional and global stability is absolutely unacceptable.

North Korea revealed the existence of a new ICBM in October 2020. It recently conducted two successful missile tests, one at the end of last month and another earlier this month, plus another launch in mid-March that failed.

This is the first ICBM test by North Korea since the launch of the Hwasong-15 missile in November 2017. The Hwasong-15 reached an altitude of more than 4,000 kilometers with a flight time of 53 minutes. Analysis indicates it might have a range of more than 10,000 kilometers when launched at a normal angle.

The new missile is believed to be larger, with increased altitude and flight time. If it had a range of 13,000 kilometers, it would be able to reach the U.S. capital Washington and other major cities.

North Korea is believed to already possess 40 to 50 nuclear warheads. It might be aiming to show off its improved nuclear weapons capabilities to the United States. North Korea’s claim that the series of launches was “the development of a reconnaissance satellite system” is unacceptable.

In January, North Korea indicated its intention to resume ICBM launches and nuclear tests that had been suspended ahead of a 2018 U.S.-North Korea summit, citing the “hostile policy of the United States.”

Some analysts believe North Korea is conducting construction and maintenance work at its nuclear test sites. It is also necessary to be on the alert for the resumption of nuclear tests.

North Korea’s reckless actions have not stopped despite U.N. Security Council sanctions banning it from nuclear and missile development, because the sanctions are inadequate. China is particularly responsible because it is secretly supporting North Korea. Strict enforcement of the sanctions should be pursued.

Japan also needs to be poised to deter attacks by possessing counterattack capabilities, enabling it to strike aggressors with missiles and other means. Discussions for this purpose must be expedited.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 25, 2022.