On Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo placed Japan on its highest alert level after North Korea’s latest defiant display of military prowess. This involved the morning launch of four missiles — three of which landed in the Sea of Japan — from a known long-range launch site. The incident brings to mind a North Korean defector’s recent revelation that dictator Kim Jong-Un is “racing ahead” to develop more weapons this year.
Reuters reports that South Korea’s military doesn’t believe that these were intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), but the final call won’t be made until after further investigation. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal Japan editor Alistair Gale tweeted this screencap from a Japanese morning news program. Relatively speaking, these missiles (which traveled an average of 620 miles, or 1,000 kilometers) landed fairly close (186 miles, or 300 kilometers) to Japan’s coast. Yikes.
The Washington Post points towards the timing of the launches for possible explanations (other than Kim Jong-Un doing this all the time):
The launches follow a remarkable month in which Kim Jong Un’s regime tested a solid-fuel rocket that it says is part of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States and in which the regime is accused of assassinating the leader’s half brother. Both actions have angered allies and adversaries in the region, and Monday’s launches will only exacerbate that.
“Every year this time, they try to do something to defy the exercises,” said Bruce Bennett, a North Korea expert at the Rand Corp. in California. “This time, I think they’re also interested in making a statement to the Chinese and to let Beijing know this coal ban is going to hurt,” he said, referring to Beijing’s decision last month to stop importing coal from North Korea, cutting off a major economic lifeline.
The launches arrive mere weeks after Kim Jong-Un’s first missile test of the Trump presidency, which followed a threat that North Korea could launch missile “anytime and anywhere.” It’s also understood that the country is obsessed with launching ICBMs and already claims the ability to do so.
Bloomberg relays word from Shinzo, who told lawmakers that these missiles “clearly show that this is a new level of threat.” Reuters emphasizes Shinzo’s condemnation of the launches as a violation of UN resolutions, and he stressed that this is an “extremely dangerous” situation.