Japan, U.S., South Korea Should Hasten Efforts to Jointly Strengthen Deterrence

North Korea has launched ballistic missiles toward the Sea of Japan again. Japan, the United States and South Korea must strengthen their cooperation and accelerate the establishment of a system to deter the North Korean nuclear and missile threat.

At least two ballistic missiles were fired eastward from a location near the western coast of North Korea on Thursday night. According to the Japanese Defense Ministry, the two missiles traveled about 850-900 kilometers, and both are believed to have fallen in waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

A snow crab-fishing boat based in Tottori Prefecture was operating in nearby waters. One crew member reportedly said, “I heard a loud sound of something falling.” It might have been the sound of a falling missile.

The incident could have resulted in a catastrophe if something had gone wrong. People’s lives are being exposed to danger. It is absolutely unacceptable to conduct activities that threaten the safety of fishery workers and others and shake the stability of the region and the world.

U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions against North Korea prohibit the country from launching ballistic missiles. It is no wonder that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida strongly condemned the latest launches, saying, “It is an outrageous act that escalates provocations against the international community as a whole.”

The missiles fired in the latest incident are believed to have flown on an irregular trajectory, which would make them difficult to intercept with existing defense systems. Pyongyang conducted the launches at night, possibly to show off improvements in its missile technology and performance, as well as its readiness for war, in order to keep Japan, the United States and South Korea in check.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries conducted large-scale joint drills near the military demarcation line between South Korea and North Korea through Thursday. In response, North Korea’s Defense Ministry issued a statement saying Pyongyang would “fully counter” such moves.

North Korea has vowed to attempt another “military reconnaissance satellite launch” after a failed attempt in late May. There is a possibility Pyongyang will not give advance notice of the timing of such a launch or provide information about where the rocket might fall, which would be inexcusable.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada has extended the effective period of a missile destruction order issued to the Self-Defense Forces. The government is urged to take all possible measures to ensure the safety of the public.

In response to the latest missile launches, high-level Japanese, U.S. and South Korean government officials issued a joint statement saying trilateral cooperation will “not be shaken by provocations.”

North Korea has already announced the “completion” of an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range that could reach the U.S. mainland. Pyongyang is also developing tactical nuclear weapons that could be used to target South Korea and other countries.

Tokyo, Washington and Seoul must align their perceptions about North Korean threats and deal with the situation. The three countries also need to swiftly establish a system that will enable them to share information on North Korean missiles immediately and expand joint exercises in order to enhance deterrence.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 17, 2023)