For the first time in over five years, North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan just this Tuesday early in the morning. The missile, a Hwasong-12 IRBM (intermediate-range ballistic missile), flew around 2858 miles (4600 kilometers), which is also far enough to reach the United States island territory of Guam. According to Japanese and South Korean officials, the IRBM traveled from North Korea’s Jajang province into the Pacific Ocean and reached an altitude of 603 miles with a top speed of Mach 17.
During its voyage, it went over Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, where residents in the region and in Tokyo were told via television alerts to seek cover. Although there wasn’t much panic in the cities as Japanese citizens were used to missile threats from North Korea, the Japanese government still got quite a scare. Even though the missile wasn’t directly targeted at Japan, it still came unannounced. Moreover, in the worst-case scenario that the missile would fail, it could fall downwards, endangering major population areas. “For the Japanese especially, it feels like a violation of their sovereignty,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program (EANP).
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida responded to the launch, stating that it was “outrageous” that North Korea didn’t warn them of the missile, let alone fire it over Japan in the first place. The President of South Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol, also condemned the act, promising an appropriate response. The two countries have said that they will take the incident to National Security Council to be discussed. US President Joe Biden went on a phone call with Kishida a bit later after the incident, in which Biden strengthened Washington’s commitment to defend Japan and condemned the testing.
This incident is the first time since 2017 that North Korea tested a missile over Japan. Moreover, the missile used 5 years ago was the same design as the one used Tuesday. This is also the fifth missile test that North Korea has conducted this week as the country continues to build upon its nuclear missile array. Kim Jong-Un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, promised earlier this year that his country would develop its nuclear arms at the “highest possible” speed.
It’s also been theorized that North Korea will probably do yet another missile test soon, possibly in this same week. The country still has three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM)s, which have not been tested for their full range. Moreover, Leif-Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, stated that China will soon be holding its Congress in mid-October and that North Korea could be waiting until then to conduct its next test. “This is probably an appetizer for the main course, which is yet to come,” stated Lewis. “I would expect that when North Korea has more confidence in one of their ICBMs, they might fly one of those to full range over Japan.”