TOKYO – North Korea may now possess nuclear weapons that can be used in an actual war, Japan’s defense minister said Sunday following the North’s sixth nuclear test a week ago.
The nuclear test explosion “was 160 kilotons, 10 times the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima” in 1945, Itsunori Onodera told reporters. “I can’t help but think the country possesses nuclear weapons.”
On whether to recognize that North Korea is a nuclear state, Onodera said, “It is up to the international community to judge. Apart from the issue of recognizing whether or not the country is a nuclear state, it has repeatedly conducted nuclear tests and has the capabilities to do so.”
In a television program earlier Sunday, Onodera said he expects the next provocative action by North Korea to be a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
He said it is possible a missile may be launched over Japan again, like the intermediate-range missile that North Korea fired over Hokkaido late last month.
“The capability which North Korea wants to acquire is an ICBM,” he said.
On the possibility of military action by the United States against North Korea, the defense minister hinted that Japan is requesting the United States to take a restrained response.
“It is certain that South Korea will be the one which suffers major damage, and Japan will be placed in a similar situation,” Onodera said. “In talks between Japan and the United States, we are always conveying our thinking.”
He also touched on the possibility of Maritime Self-Defense Force escort ships protecting a U.S. Aegis-equipped vessel which is monitoring North Korean ballistic missiles, saying that the role of joint activities by the two countries would deepen under security-related legislation that took effect last year.
On Japan’s defense expenses, which have been on the rise, Onodera said they are likely to be increased again, saying, “The security environment is the most severe it has been in the postwar period.”
The Defense Ministry has requested a record-high budget of 5.26 trillion yen ($48 billion) for fiscal 2018 starting next April as it seeks to counter missile threats from North Korea and defend remote islands in southwestern Japan in light of China’s rising maritime assertiveness.