North Korea on Tuesday launched the most provocative weapons demonstrations, forcing Japan to issue evacuation notices and suspend trains during the ballistic missile flight.
Residents in northern Japan were woken up Tuesday by sirens and warnings to prepare to evacuate their homes following the launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea.
The missile flew over northern Japan early in the morning and landed outside the country’s exclusive economic zone east of the nation in the Pacific Ocean. Japan’s Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said there were no reports of damage to aircraft or ships.
The launch was the most provocative and reckless act that marked a significant escalation in its weapons testing program. According to analysts, the missile was the Hwasong-12, rolled out in a military parade in January during the Kim regime.
The test marks North Korea’s seventh missile launch over Japan. The last occasion was in September 2017. It is also the 23rd time North Korea has launched a missile this year, including the most ballistic missiles fired in a single year since Kim Jong Un took power in 2012. Compared to Kim, Pyongyang conducted four tests in 2020 and eight in 2021.
Later Tuesday, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Defense said in a statement that the United States and South Korea conducted a “combined attack squadron flight and precision bombing drill in response to North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missile provocation today.”
So, why is this a big deal, and why does North Korea fire missiles? Here’s everything you need to know about North Korea’s ballistic missile launches:
What Do We Know About North Korea’s Recent Missile Launch?
On Tuesday, North Korea’s missile flew 4,600 kilometers with an altitude of about 1,000 kilometers — putting it within reach of the U.S. territory of Guam.
According to officials in Tokyo and Seoul, the missile covered the longest distance ever traveled by a North Korean weapon. Some experts, including Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at CNS, suggested that the missile fired was likely the Hwasong-12, an intermediate-range ballistic missile North Korea tested in 2017.
“This is a missile that North Korea started testing in 2017 … So it’s not really a new missile,” said Jeffrey Lewis. “North Korea has a bunch of missiles that are shorter range, and that wouldn’t go over Japan, but they have a small number of missiles that could make that journey.”
Does North Korea’s Missile Testing Pose Any Threat?
Firing missiles toward and over other countries are considered hugely provocative, which is why most countries avoid doing it completely, as it can easily be mistaken for an attack. Furthermore, the UN forbids North Korea from carrying out ballistic and nuclear weapons tests.
As the missile travels down its target, it could pose risks to aircraft and ships, especially when launched unannounced. The worst may happen if the test fails, causing the missile to fall short and endangering many people’s lives. According to Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, the missile flew over Japan’s Tohoku region, which is home to more than 8 million people.
Why is North Korea Launching Missiles?
According to some experts, North Korea’s weapons are designed to carry battlefield nuclear warheads to counter the stronger forces of the United States and South Korea, which stations approximately 28,500 troops in the South.
However, there are different opinions on why North Korea fired a missile on Tuesday. Robert Ward, senior fellow for Japanese Security Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the unstable international situation may have prompted North Korea to fire Tuesday’s missile.
“North Korea may be trying to exploit the unstable international situation, which it will see as a tailwind,” Ward said.
Lewis disagreed, claiming that North Korea sometimes retaliates or responds to specific actions by Western groups or players; for the large part, “they have their own scheduled … and I don’t think we have a lot of impact on the timing.”
Lewis added that North Korea usually takes a break in testing during summer when weather is not favorable and resumes in the fall and early winter, which means Tuesday offered the right conditions for a test.