A North Korean ballistic missile flew over Japan

Tokyo unusually activated the country’s missile warning system, urging affected populations to evacuate. Pyongyang’s last rocket launch over Japan was in 2017.

North Korea on Tuesday fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan for the first time since 2017, marking a clear escalation in Pyongyang’s intense weapons-testing campaign.

Pyongyang’s last missile launch over Japan was in 2017, at the height of the “fire and rage” period in which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump exchanged insults.

On Tuesday, South Korea’s military said it had spotted the launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile that was flying a distance of about 4,500 km at an altitude of 970 km at a speed of nearly Mach 17, flying eastward over Japan.

“The precise details are being thoroughly analyzed in cooperation with the United States and the international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Japan is asking affected residents to evacuate

Seoul called the firing a “provocation” that “clearly violates universal principles and United Nations standards.” South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol pledged a “strong response” and taking “appropriate measures in cooperation with the United States and the international community.”

Tokyo also confirmed the shot, uncharacteristically activated the country’s missile warning system and called on the affected population to evacuate.

“A ballistic missile is likely to have passed over our country before crashing into the Pacific Ocean. This is an act of violence that follows the recent repeated launches of ballistic missiles. We condemn this in the strongest terms,” ​​Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters .

According to Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, it could be a Hwasong-12 missile fired from Pyongyang “four times” in the past. If so, that shot would set a new distance record, which Tokyo estimates at around 4,500 km.

Seoul-Tokyo-Washington Alliance

As talks with Pyongyang stalled, nuclear-armed North Korea has ramped up its weapons modernization plans this year, including a record number of weapons tests.

Notably, it launched an ICBM for the first time since 2017 and reviewed its legislation to make its status as a nuclear power “irreversible”. Last week it fired four short-range ballistic missiles.

The shooting came as Seoul, Tokyo and Washington conducted trilateral anti-submarine drills for the first time in five years on Sept. 30, days after US and South Korean naval forces conducted large-scale maneuvers well off the peninsula.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, who was in Seoul the previous day, visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas on a trip to underscore Washington’s “unwavering” commitment to defending South Korea – south versus north.

US consults allies for ‘robust’ response

The United States has consulted with Japan and South Korea on a “robust” response to the shooting, the White House said. US National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan spoke separately with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts to craft an “appropriate and robust international” response.

It reaffirms the United States’ “iron commitment” to the defense of Japan and South Korea, spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

In a separate statement, the US Asia-Pacific Command condemned the launch, saying Washington’s “commitments to the defense of Japan and Korea remain unshakable.”

“The United States condemns these actions and calls on the DPRK to refrain from further illegal and destabilizing acts,” he said in a statement, using the official acronym for North Korea.

“A Cycle of Provocations and Tests”

North Korea, subject to UN sanctions over its weapons programs, generally seeks to maximize the geopolitical impact of its tests by timing it when it sees the best.

“If Pyongyang fired a missile over Japan, it could represent a significant escalation of its recent provocations,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“Pyongyang is still in the middle of a cycle of provocations and tests,” he added.

“Mr. Kim’s regime is developing weapons such as tactical nuclear warheads and submarine-launched ballistic missiles as part of a long-term strategy to overtake South Korea in an arms race and sow discord among United States allies,” he added.

The fear of North Korea getting nuclear weapons

South Korean and American officials have been warning for months that North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un is preparing for another nuclear test.

It could be carried out after the next Chinese Communist Party congress, which begins Oct. 16, several senior officials from America’s Asia-Pacific Command said this weekend.

The notion that North Korea has a nuclear weapon is all the more worrying because, unlike other nuclear powers, the Pyongyang regime does not view these types of weapons as a deterrent that should never be used.

Pyongyang has tested nuclear bombs six times since 2006. The last and most powerful test came in 2017 with an estimated yield of 250 kilotons.

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