By Gauri Patel
For the first time in five years, North Korea has test-launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) over the island of Japan that landed about 3000 kilometers east of Japan in the Pacific Ocean, traveling farther than ever before, according to the Guardian. Rare J-alert alarms were triggered across the northern part of the country as residents were advised to seek shelter in the event of falling debris, and some train services were halted as the missile passed. J-alert is the Japanese government’s communication system that is used to alert the public of threats or emergencies.
This action was poorly received by the leaders of prominent powers, including the United States, South Korea and Japan.
According to a statement released by the White House, President Joe Biden spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. They jointly condemned the missile launch, describing it as “destabilizing to the region” and “a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.”
North Korea is banned from testing any nuclear weapons and missiles under many United Nations resolutions, according to the New York Times.
Kishida called this act, along with North Korea’s other recent missile launches, “outrageous” in comments to reporters outside of his residence, as reported by CNN.
The Guardian reported that in response to the missile launch, Seoul’s military said the United States and South Korea swiftly carried out their own joint precision bombing drill. Four South Korean F-15K jets and four United States Air Force F-16 jets fired two bombs at a target in the Yellow Sea off the coast of South Korea. This drill was meant to demonstrate the capabilities of the U.S. and South Korea in making precise strikes at a target.
The U.S. and South Korea are also conducting drills using their navy ships off the east coast of South Korea. Specifically, the USS Ronald Reagan is being redeployed in an attempt to deter any further North Korean activity. The aircraft carrier and its strike group recently completed joint exercises in the Sea of Japan with the South Korean navy late last month.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry condemned the recent actions led by the U.S., saying in a press release that the redeployment of the aircraft carrier is a “serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity.” They also view the U.S.-South Korea bombing drills as a rehearsal for the invasion of North Korea and described them as “escalating the military tensions” in the region.
There are varying opinions on the reasoning behind North Korea's decision to launch this missile. Robert Ward, senior fellow for Japanese Security Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told CNN that “North Korea may be trying to exploit the unstable international situation, which it will see as a tailwind.” Recent events like the war between Russia and Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic and increased inflation all contribute to an unstable international landscape, which creates the perfect backdrop for North Korea to carry out such a test.
Another possible analysis is related to how North Korea regularly conducts tests and pauses when the weather is not favorable or during the summer. In other words, the launch may have been a part of their regular testing schedule.
In addition, Joseph Dempsey, a research associate for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, explains that the type of missile shot is meant for a long-range target, meaning that setting its trajectory over Japan could be beneficial in understanding its accuracy over a longer distance. They can also gauge the missile’s capacity to endure thermal and atmospheric forces compared to short-range missiles.
North Korea may be preparing to carry out a nuclear test, according to Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute.
“North Korea is going to keep conducting missile tests until the current round of modernization is done,” he told CNN. “I don’t think a nuclear (test) explosion is far behind.”