North Korean Missile Launches: Pyongyang’s Acts a Blatant Threat to Japan, U.S., South Korea

North Korea may want to show off its ability to attack the U.S. mainland and U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan at any time. Tokyo, Washington and Seoul should work together to strengthen deterrence and sanctions pressure on North Korea.

North Korea launched a short-range ballistic missile on Sunday night and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-class missile on Monday morning. Both are believed to have fallen into the Sea of Japan, outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

The ICBM-class missile was launched at a steep angle, on a“ lofted trajectory.” If fired at a normal angle, the missile would have had a range of more than 15,000 kilometers, which would have put the entire United States within range.

By launching missiles with different ranges at night and morning, Pyongyang may have wanted to show that it can launch surprise attacks against Japan, the United States and South Korea almost simultaneously.

In a statement issued on Sunday night justifying its missile launch, North Korea claimed that it was a “blatant declaration of nuclear confrontation” that Washington and Seoul are strengthening extended deterrence to protect South Korea with U.S. nuclear capabilities.

The United States and South Korea held a meeting of the Nuclear Consultative Group, which regularly discusses extended deterrence, on Friday and agreed to complete guidelines on implementing nuclear strategy by the middle of next year and to conduct next summer their first joint drill for an assumed nuclear retaliatory strike against North Korea.

The joint document released after the group meeting warned that “Any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies is unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim [Jong Un] regime.” North Korea must have perceived this as a threat to the survival of its regime and reacted strongly.

Japan and the United States also hold regular discussions on extended deterrence among working-level foreign and defense officials. At this month’s meeting, the two countries reportedly discussed ways to further improve specific cooperation on extended deterrence.

North Korea is undoubtedly being prevented from unleashing its attacks by the strengthening of extended deterrence between Washington and Seoul and between Washington and Tokyo. Japan, the United States and South Korea must further enhance deterrence by conducting joint exercises and sharing information on North Korean missiles.

North Korea’s ballistic missile launches are in violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions against the country. Despite repeated launches, additional sanctions have not been implemented due to opposition from China and Russia, two of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

This situation is tantamount to China and Russia supporting North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. Russia is also suspected of providing technical assistance for North Korea’s satellite launches.

It is important for Japan, the United States and South Korea to take the lead in building international public opinion to put pressure on North Korea, by illustrating the threat that China and Russia’s irresponsible behavior poses to regional stability.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 19, 2023)