Be Prepared for Increasingly Dangerous Military Provocations

North Korea has once again demonstrated that it is steadily building up nuclear and missile capabilities that could attack the United States. Further military provocations that threaten the stability of the region and the world must not be allowed.

North Korea on Saturday fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) toward the Sea of Japan, which flew for 66 minutes before splashing down in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the western coast of Hokkaido.

At about the same time the missile fell, a fireball-like object was captured on video. Many people must have become acutely aware of the threat posed by North Korea. The missile’s fall into Japan’s EEZ was an outrage that could have caused harm to fishermen and others.

The missile was launched with a lofted trajectory at a higher angle than usual. If it had been launched at a normal angle, the calculated flight distance would have been over 14,000 kilometers, possibly capable of hitting anywhere in the United States.

North Korea said it had launched a Hwasong-15 ICBM. The Hwasong-15 uses liquid fuel and is fired from a mobile launch pad. One of these missiles was also launched in 2017, but the latest launch was suddenly organized without previous notice at the order of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

The latest firing may have been a demonstration of North Korea’s ability to counterattack immediately if attacked by the United States and South Korea, or the readiness of the missiles for actual warfare.

North Korea has warned that the United States and South Korea would “face unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions,” in response to the two countries’ plans to hold regular large-scale joint exercises in mid-March. The latest launch is probably intended to be part of such counteractions.

Henceforth, vigilance must be heightened for such possible North Korean actions as a test launch of a new solid-fuel ICBM, the first launch of a military reconnaissance satellite or a seventh nuclear test.

It is essential for Japan, the United States and South Korea to cooperate closely. The three countries confirmed last year a policy of immediately sharing information related to North Korean missiles, but discussions on specific measures are still to come.

There is a gap in the areas where Japan and South Korea can track missiles by radar, and there have been discrepancies in the two countries’ announcements regarding past North Korean missile launches. If an information-sharing system is established, such a situation can be expected to be prevented and more effective responses can be taken.

While the international community’s attention is focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the U.S.-China confrontation over China’s reconnaissance balloons, the North Korean nuclear and missile issues must not be left unaddressed.

The Group of Seven industrialized nations, of which Japan is president this year, strongly condemned the launch at a G7 foreign ministers meeting and urged a united response. Japan, together with the United States and South Korea, should take the lead in strengthening sanctions against North Korea.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb 20, 2023)