A Defense Ministry think tank described the tension on the Korean Peninsula last year as a situation serious enough to be called another “North Korean nuclear crisis” in its annual report on security issues in East Asia, released Friday.
In its report that analyzed events last year, the National Institute for Defense Studies highlighted the increasingly severe security environment in the region while also hailing the strengthening bilateral alliance between Japan and the United States.
Until the recent thaw in inter-Korean relations seen since the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, tensions were running high over North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs.
Last year, North Korea succeeded for the first time in test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile in July and conducted its largest nuclear test in September. It also launched a number of other missiles and threatened to carry out nuclear attacks on the U.S. mainland and U.S. military bases in Japan.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile development constitutes “a new level” of threat, the institute said in its East Asian Strategic Review report, reiterating a phrase the Japanese government has used to express its concerns over the situation.
On the Japan-U.S. alliance, the report said Japan has been able to expand its security role regionally and globally through its 2016 security legislation, which has loosened the constraints of the country’s postwar pacifist Constitution.
The legislation enables U.S. and Japanese troops to work together closer than ever in both peacetime and during contingencies, including in situations where Japan judges there is a need to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or defend allies under armed attack even when Japan itself is not attacked.
Noting that joint exercises have taken place with the involvement of U.S. aircraft carriers, the institute said the two countries are “steadily making progress” toward strengthening ties.
The report also warned of China’s military buildup, pointing to its moves including development of new equipment such as home-grown aircraft carriers.