North Korea, which had refrained from conducting nuclear and missile tests for many months, has resumed its provocations, again heightening global tensions.
The country launched multiple projectiles toward the Sea of Japan on May 4 and 9. According to South Korean forces, the projectiles launched on May 9 flew a maximum of some 420 kilometers, far further than the about 240 kilometers of May 4. While experts have pointed to the possibility that the objects were ballistic missiles, Japan, the United States and South Korea did not initially confirm those suspicions.
The U.S. Department of Defense later recognized that the projectiles were ballistic missiles, and President Donald Trump expressed his displeasure. At the same time, however, Trump indicated continued feelings of trust in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump apparently does not want to admit events have taken a turn for the worse, since he has claimed North Korea’s discontinuation of nuclear and missile tests as his own major diplomatic achievement.
Following the U.S. announcement, Japan also confirmed that what North Korea launched were short-range ballistic missiles. Still, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya stressed that the launches did not directly affect Japan’s security. Tokyo is matching Washington’s tone as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking a summit meeting with Kim.
Seoul has not yet confirmed that the projectiles were ballistic missiles. President Moon Jae-in, whose core policy initiative is reconciliation with the North, has just announced a plan to provide food assistance in an effort to nurture mutual trust with Pyongyang. South Korea is apparently trying not to provoke the North.
North Korea appears to be trying to shake up the United States in a bid to tilt negotiations with the Trump administration to its own advantage. Pyongyang even stated that, not only the international community, but also the U.S. and Japan clarified that the May 4 launches do not constitute a violation of any of its promises. There is a possibility that the North will escalate its provocations until the U.S. agrees to return to the negotiation table.
Moreover, there are observations that what North Korea fired were new weapons developed by modifying Russian 9K720 Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, which experts say can avoid interception by missile defense systems.
Ballistic missile launches are a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, regardless of their range or actual flight distances. Any such act destabilizing the region is intolerable.
It is desirable to seek a solution to any international problem through dialogue. However, Japan, the United States and South Korea must not downplay the reality for the sake of their respective political goals.
Japan and South Korea are exposed to the direct threat of North Korea’s short-range ballistic missiles. It is the time for these two countries as well as the international community to be on full alert against North Korea’s moves to resume its brinkmanship tactics.