North Korean ballistic missile: what we know about the launch that flew over Japan

A first since 2017 and a clear escalation in the intense weapons testing campaign led by Pyongyang. North Korea on Tuesday fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan.

Where did the rocket go?

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.

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

How are the reactions?

On rare occasions, after confirming this shot, Tokyo activated the country’s missile warning system and asked the affected population to evacuate the area. Trains have been discontinued in this northern region.

“A ballistic missile probably flew over our country before crashing into the Pacific Ocean. This is an act of violence that follows the repeated launching of ballistic missiles in recent times. 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.

What answers to this shot?

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 map out an “appropriate and robust international response” and reaffirm the US’ “iron-clad commitment” to the defense of Japan and South Korea, spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in an explanation .

In response to that fire, South Korean and American warplanes conducted precision strike drills in the morning, the South Korean military said.

“With the participation of four South Korean Air Force F-15Ks and four United States Air Force F-16 fighters, South Korean F-15Ks dropped two bombs (…) on a virtual target at the Jikdo firing range in the West Sea,” the South Korean joint said Chiefs of Staff relating to the Yellow Sea.

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

Same tone on the part of the European Union. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, condemned “in the strongest terms” an “unjustified aggression”. This is “a deliberate attempt” to compromise security in the region,” he tweeted.

What is the status of talks with Pyongyang?

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.

Is this the sign of an escalation?

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.

According to Mr Easly, “Mr Kim’s regime is developing weapons such as tactical nuclear warheads and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.” This is a strategy aimed at overtaking South Korea in an arms race and sowing discord among United States allies.

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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