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Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | North Korea Missiles Call for Japan's Stronger Defense Posture

Missile launches by North Korea have driven South Korea to seek to expand its deterrence capabilities based on the US nuclear umbrella. Japan must do the same.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un views a Hwasong-18 ICBM missile launch during what North Korea says is a drill on December 18, 2023. (©KCNA via Reuters)

North Korea launched ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan in quick succession on December 17 and 18. Fortunately, both landed outside Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 

The office of the president in South Korea judged the missile launched on December 18 to be a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It was launched at a higher angle than normal, resulting in a lofted trajectory to a maximum altitude of over 6,000 kilometers. The missile flew for about 73 minutes before landing in the sea about 250 kilometers west of Okushiri Island, Hokkaido

Parliamentary Vice Minister of Defense Shingo Miyake said, "Depending on warhead weight [and other factors], the range could exceed 15,000 km." 

That means the entire United States would fall within this missile's attack range.

The first North Korean ICBM launch took place on July 12. Japan's National Security Council (NSC) met immediately following the launch to discuss possible responses. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida appropriately said that Japan condemned the launching "not only as a clear violation of [United Nations] Security Council resolutions but also as a threat to regional peace and stability." 

Clearly, North Korea should immediately give up its nuclear and missile forces. 

Kim Jong Un views a missile launcher before the launch of a Hwasong-18 ICBM during what North Korea says was a drill at an unknown location on December 18, 2023. (©KCNA via Reuters)

Most Recent Missile Launches

Apparently, the recently launched ICBM was a solid fuel type. Unlike liquid fuel-type missiles, solid fuel-type missiles can be launched quickly. That makes them suitable for surprise attacks and increases the threat level. 

Japan, the US, and South Korea had also noted signs of an impending launch. All three were consequently gathering information and increasing their vigilance at sea and in the air. 

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Hopefully, proactive measures will continue to be taken in the future. Additionally, it makes sense that our three countries will begin operating a system to instantly share information on North Korean missile launches starting in December 2023. 

A television program in Seoul reports North Korea's missile launch on December 19, 2023. (©AP via Kyodo)

South Korea's Deterrence Under the US Nuclear Umbrella

The second bilateral US-Republic of Korea (ROK) Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) convened in Washington DC on December 15. It came as the South Korean administration of President Yoon Suk-yeol sought to expand deterrence capabilities based on the US nuclear umbrella. A joint press statement after the meeting emphasized: "Any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies is unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim regime."

North Korea opposes moves being made by the US and South Korea. However, that country is repeatedly launching missiles in flagrant defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. Therefore, it is natural for the US and South Korea to strengthen extended deterrence. 

The UN Security Council also held an emergency meeting on December 19 to discuss responses to North Korea's ICBM launch. In New York. (©Kyodo)

Enhancing Deterrence for Japan

The same can be said for Japan. It has been demonstrated once again that this country needs to strengthen its defense posture. 

In that regard, it is commendable that the Ministry of Defense decided to deploy a new domestically produced long-range missile from FY2025. That is one year earlier than planned and in addition to the US-made Tomahawk cruise missile. 

Japan should also prepare for extended deterrence through reliance on the US nuclear umbrella. This should be combined with the enhancement of the Self-Defense Forces' counterstrike capabilities.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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