(Sankei: February 2, 2016 – p. 2)
In preparation for North Korea’s possible long-range ballistic missile launch, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida talked with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se on the telephone on Feb. 1 to ensure the importance of tripartite coordination among Japan, U.S. and the ROK. In this way, Japan further tightened its security posture. After receiving an order to shoot down a ballistic missile, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) has deployed its missile interception units across the country in preparation for an unexpected situation. As DPRK has not issued an advance notice of its missile launch, predicting the timing of a launch is difficult. The high alertness will apparently continue. “By closely cooperating with U.S. and South Korea, we are making thorough security arrangement to protect people’s lives and safety,” emphasized Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in a press conference on the same day.
There are three points for consideration with regard to North Korea’s possible missile launch. The first point is whether or not the DPRK will actually conduct the launch. As Feb. 16 is Kim Jong-un’s birthday and the Korean Workers’ Party convention is scheduled in May, there remains the possibility for the country to implement the launch to raise national prestige. Furthermore, North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Jan. 6. There is a past pattern in which the DPRK linked a missile launch with a nuclear test.
There was, however, an exception. In April 2013, an indication of North Korea’s missile launch was detected. Based on an order to shoot down a ballistic missile, the SDF remained on high alert for about three months, but the DPRK did not launch a missile. Reading the true intention of a closed nation such as North Korea is difficult. By tightening security, Japan also aims to deter Pyongyang from resorting to provocative actions.
The second point is that the SDF’s preparation for missile interception is not “the mobilization of the SDF.” If a missile strikes Japan, it would cause devastating damage. The government would identify such a situation as an armed attack, which would justify missile interception under the framework of the mobilization of the SDF.
This time, however, North Korea has not confirmed its intention to launch a missile. Whether or not an attack against Japan is imminent will be decided based on the enemy’s explicit intention or means of attack. Merely the fact that a ballistic missile is heading for Japan is insufficient to initiate the mobilization of the SDF. At the same time, shooting down an incoming missile is the only way to prevent devastation to Japan. In order for the government to respond to a situation to which the administration cannot apply the mobilization of the SDF, the SDF law stipulates an order can be issued to shoot down a ballistic missile.
The third point is that the government has not officially announced the issuance of an order to shoot down a ballistic missile. Although the administration announced the issuance of such an order and details in the past, the government decided not to this time, because the SDF’s activities require a degree of secrecy. By taking into consideration that visible close cooperation between the SDF and the U.S. military may initiate intelligence collection by China or Russia, the government decided not to announce the issuance of the order.