North Korea launches missile toward sea near Japan and South Korea, causing ‘take cover’ alerts
North Korea on Thursday reportedly launched a ballistic missile which came to ground in a location between the Korean Peninsula and the nation of Japan, according to NBC News, drawing renewed attention to a series of provocative weapons tests on the part of Pyongyang.
The launch was said to have sparked a scare in the northern part of Japan prompting an evacuation order to be issued, then later withdrawn once it became clear that there was no lingering threat.
Referring to the incident as a “grave provocation,” as Reuters noted, the South Korean military reported that the missile traveled roughly 620 miles before landing.
A South Korean official stated, “So far we assess that they fired a new type of ballistic missile with an intermediate or intercontinental range. We're still analyzing details like the trajectory, altitude and range, with the possibility that it carried a solid-fuel propellant.”
Reuters explained that North Korea has been attempting to develop a greater number of solid-fuel missiles, prized for their ease of storage and transportation and the fact that they can be activated with little or no advance preparation.
As a result of the Thursday launch, military officials in South Korea indicated that they remained on high alert and were coordinating with the United States government, which said it “strongly condemned” the move by Pyongyang.
Evacuation order issued
In the immediate aftermath of the launch, the government of Japan warned those living on the northern island of Hokkaido to seek shelter, according to the Daily Mail.
As Reuters noted, schools in the area delayed their start times as a result of the missile alert, and some train services in the areas experienced disruptions.
Ultimately, however, the government issued a retraction of its prior alert, stating that there was no further danger of a missile strike on the island.
Even so, officials in Japan indicated that a National Security Council meeting would be convened to address the situation.
“Door has not closed”
According to Reuters, North Korea's launch came soon after Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un advocated for stronger and more overt war deterrence in response to what he believes are aggressive actions on the part of Washington, D.C.
Notably, North Korea has been critical of joint military exercises involving the American and South Korean militaries, and as such, has bolstered its weapons testing programs and added to existing tensions between Pyongyang and a host of other nations.
In response to Thursday's missile launch, Adrienne Watson of the U.S. National Security Council said, “The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately case its destabilizing actions and instead choose diplomatic engagement.”
As NBC News added, North Korea's moves toward amassing a nuclear arsenal all its own will surely be a prime topic of discussion during an upcoming summit between President Joe Biden and President Yoon Suk Yeoi of South Korea, as will the latter's desire for greater assurances of military assistance in the event of an attack.
Japan's strategic shift
Due in large part to the dangers posed by North Korea and other pariah states, the Japanese government embarked on a dramatic change in course late last year by announcing that it would double its defense spending budget and develop a counterstrike capability, as CBS News explained at the time.
The move came as something of a surprise to observers around the world, given Japan's longstanding reputation for pacifism and its history of relying mainly on the United States for its security needs.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida explained the plans for massively increased outlays by saying, “Unfortunately, in the vicinity of our country, there are countries carrying out activities such as enhancement of nuclear capability, a rapid military build-up and unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force.”
A recent update to Japan's National Security Strategy asserted that the country's shared borders with Russia, China, and North Korea place it squarely within “the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II,” a stance to which Thursday's launch added even greater credibility.