North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Monday in Mupyeong-ri, Jagang-do, which flew over Japan and fell in the Pacific Ocean after traveling approximately 4,500 kilometers at an altitude of 970 kilometers. The test showed North Korea’s ability to fire a missile far enough to hit not only Okinawa, where the U.S. military base is stationed but also the U.S. Island of Guam, a hub for the U.S. strategic assets. North Korea’s missile launch that flew over Japan was the first in five years since September 2017. South Korea, the U.S., and Japan condemned the North Korean missile provocation in unison. Japan issued an emergency alert and activated an evacuation order in some regions.
Fifth in the past 10 days, North Korea’s intermediate-range missile launch may signal its threats of strategic provocations against the Korean Peninsula and beyond in that it is an armed protest targeting Japan and the United States. Unlike the previous four short-range missile provocations, North Korea demonstrated its ability to strike the U.S. forces that would be deployed to the Korean Peninsula in an emergency. In particular, some strategic assets like the B-52 strategic bomber force currently stationed in Guam are crucial assets for deterrence against North Korea. North Korea intends to precipitate a fissure by testing the U.S. commitment to its alliance with South Korea and Japan.
North Korea is likely to conduct SLBM and ICBM tests and the seventh nuclear test, thereby mounting more provocations, seemingly in an attempt to restore the “fire and fury” threat, which drove the Korean Peninsula into extreme confrontations and the brink of war five years ago. It is also the intention of North Korea to concertize its position as a de facto nuclear power, such as India and Pakistan, and lead the negotiation with the U.S. to nuclear disarmament rather than denuclearization.
It has become much more complex than five years ago to respond to growing threats from the North Korean provocations. Five years ago, even China favored sanctions against North Korea, pressuring the Kim Jong Un regime. Still, China and Russia are now vetoing an effort to tighten sanctions on North Korea. The support from China and Russia has puffed up North Korea. However, there is no need to be overly sensitive. We must push North Korea to voluntarily abandon its reckless gambling by demonstrating our extended deterrence with both nuclear and conventional weapons, which overwhelmingly surpasses those of North Korea. Now is the time to strengthen security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S., and Japan and meticulously examine our extended deterrence strategy.