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EDITORIAL | How Will the Next Leader Protect Japan from Nuclear, Missile Threats?

If Pyongyang’s report that its missile traveled 1,500 km to reach its target, then most of Japan is now within North Korea’s striking range.



North Korean leader Kim Jong Un



A series of recent incidents have put a focus on the harsh security environment in which Japan finds itself. 

Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on September 13 that the North Korean Academy of National Defense Science was successful in test-firing its newly-developed long-range cruise missile, which flew for a little more than two hours to hit a target 1,500 kilometers away. 

If the reported distance is true, most of Japan is now within North Korea’s striking range. Tokyo, for example, is about 1,100 kilometers from southeastern North Korea. And the city of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, where a United States military base is located, is only 650 kilometers away. The North undoubtedly will now accelerate its program for combat deployment of the missiles.

North Korean Ballistic Missile launch

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato summed up Japan’s concerns succinctly at a press conference later the same day: “If it’s true [that the missile traveled 1,500 km], it threatens the peace and security of the region surrounding Japan.” 

Nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by North Korea violate several United Nations Security Council resolutions. Although the recent cruise missile launches have not been a subject of the resolutions, there can be no doubt that they are a menace both to Japan and to the region. Japan should take new steps to intercept the missiles and deter Pyongyang from firing them, while redoubling diplomatic efforts to prevent North Korea from launching long-distance cruise missiles.

If a cruise missile is flying at low altitude like an airplane, early detection is difficult with radar that cannot cover beyond the horizon. 

China has cruise missiles with nuclear warheads that are capable of reaching Japan. North Korea, too, is likely aiming to develop missiles capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear and chemical weapons, as well as conventional warheads. Its development of long-range cruise missiles must not be tolerated.

Chinese PLA nuclear powered submarines

The threats are not from North Korea alone. On September 10, a submarine was spotted sailing underwater in a contiguous zone just outside Japan’s territorial waters east of Amami-Oshima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture. The Ministry of Defense believes it was a submarine of the Chinese Navy. Although safe passage through the contiguous zone is not necessarily illegal under international law, diving just outside Japan’s territorial waters is a provocative act. The Ministry of Defense made it public as an extraordinary incident. 

Meanwhile, a Russian aircraft intruded into Japanese airspace twice on September 12 off the Shiretoko Peninsula, northeastern Hokkaido. The intrusion prompted Air Self-Defense Force fighters to scramble and warn the aircraft out of the area.

These problematic military moves by Japan’s neighbors appear deliberately timed to take advantage of the transition in national politics, with the upcoming leadership election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The government and the Self-Defense Forces must become even more vigilant. 

At the same time, candidates in the LDP leadership race should clearly articulate their views on how they see the country’s security environment, and how they intend to protect the people of Japan from the nuclear and missile threats, including whether Japan should acquire strike capability for self-defense against enemy bases.

(Read the Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun