Pyongyang challenges strengthening of ties among Japan, U.S., S. Korea

North Korea probably intended to demonstrate its missile capability in response to the strengthening of deterrence against Pyongyang by Japan, the United States and South Korea. The three countries need to further enhance their cooperation.

North Korea launched what is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) over the Sea of Japan. The missile is said to have come down about 1,000 kilometers away after a 69-minute flight, the second longest ever, in the sea within Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the western coast of Hokkaido.

The missile is believed to have been launched on a lofted trajectory and to have reached an altitude of as high as about 6,000 kilometers. If launched at a normal angle, the missile would have a range of more than 15,000 kilometers and be capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

This is the first time since March that a North Korean missile has fallen within Japan’s EEZ. This provocation, which threatens the safety of Japan’s fishermen and shakes the stability of the region, is absolutely unacceptable. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned the launch and stressed that Tokyo will deal with the matter in close cooperation with Washington and Seoul.

North Korea has claimed that the missile it launched in March was a new type of ICBM, the Hwasong-17. It is highly possible that Pyongyang launched the same type again this time.

On Nov. 3, North Korea fired an ICBM also believed to be a Hwasong-17. However, it stalled while ascending, and the United States and South Korea declared the launch a failure. North Korea seems to be fixated on the development of a missile that is considered a last resort for its military capability against the United States.

There is no doubt that the joint drills by Japan, the United States and South Korea and the strengthening of security cooperation among the three countries are putting pressure on the North. The fact that North Korea has been launching short-range missiles and ICBMs at an unprecedented pace is proof that Pyongyang is rushing to develop missiles because it does not want to be contained by the three countries.

At a summit meeting of the leaders of the three countries on Nov. 13, Japan, the United States and South Korea set forth a commitment to enhance the “extended deterrence,” in which U.S. allies Japan and South Korea are defended by the United States through various means, including the U.S. nuclear capability. The three leaders also confirmed the immediate sharing of data on North Korea’s missile launches in order to improve the ability to detect that country’s missiles.

It is important to examine how this cooperative arrangement worked in the case of the latest ICBM launch.

The U.N. Security Council should move quickly to adopt a resolution to strengthen sanctions against North Korea. China and Russia have opposed the strengthening of sanctions, saying that the United States should also exercise restraint and engage in dialogue with North Korea, but it is now more clear than ever that North Korea itself is responsible for the worsening of the situation.

In his recent meetings with leaders of other countries, Chinese President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stated that the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons must not be allowed. If this is the case, it would make sense to urge North Korea to cease not only its nuclear tests but also its launches of missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 19, 2022)