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Editorial: Return to policy of exerting maximum pressure on DPRK

This is an extremely serious situation for the security of Japan and the international community.

 

North Korea launched a ballistic missile that fell into the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) about 350 km off the coast of Dogo, one of Shimane Prefecture’s Oki Islands. The missile is thought to have entered the waters near “Yamatotai,” a rich fishing ground that the DPRK erroneously insists lies within its territorial waters.

 

The launch violates the UN Security Council’s resolutions. The missile did not happen to harm ships or aircraft this time, but it is extremely dangerous to launch a missile that falls into a nation’s EEZ without giving advance notice. It is natural that the Japanese government protested.

 

The missile flew about 450 km and had a maximum altitude of about 910 km. North Korea launched the missile at a higher angle than usual. This makes interception difficult because the missile takes a “lofted trajectory.” The missile could have traveled over 1,000 km if it had not been fired at this higher angle. The distance is equivalent to that of a medium-range ballistic missile, which can reach Japan.

 

According to the South Korean military, the DPRK launched the missile from waters about 17 km off the coast of North Korea’s Wonsan. It is assumed that the DPRK fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from a submarine or a launch pad for missile experiment.

 

This is the first launch of a SLBM by North Korea since August 2016. It is also the first time a missile has landed in Japan’s EEZ since the DPRK intercontinental ballistic missile that fell into the waters off Aomori Prefecture in November 2017. That ICBM was also launched on a “lofted trajectory.” 

 

The missile launched this time is entirely different from the “short-range” missiles that U.S. President Donald Trump has tolerated. North Korea is developing an SLBM aiming to make it operational using solid fuel so that the country can harness it to make a surprise attack.

 

North Korea’s submarine technology is not state-of-the-art. However, the submarines can still pose a serious threat to Japan or other countries if, when tensions are high, the DPRK fires a nuclear missile from one before the Self-Defense Forces or the U.S. military can detect and disable it. It would take many aircraft and vessels to respond to a North Korean submarine.

 

In response to the latest missile launch, Defense Minister Taro Kono said, “(The missile launch) poses a serious threat to our country’s security.” But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga only mentioned the violation of the UN Security Council’s resolutions and the danger the missile posed to aircraft and ships. If national leaders don’t squarely recognize the latest missile launch as a threat to Japan, it would be meaningless to convene the National Security Council no matter the number of times.

 

North Korea refrained from firing missiles only while “maximum pressure” was applied to the country both economically and militarily. Prime Minister Abe must urge President Trump and the international community to increase the sanctions against the DPRK by convening the UN Security Council, and encourage the U.S. to return to the “maximum pressure” approach.

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