North Korea’s ‘grave’ missile threat to Japan

Japandemonium: The missile spent two minutes above Japanese territory, causing great anxiety.

In one of its most serious provocations yet, North Korea has fired a missile over northern Japan. As the nation becomes more aggressive, the debate over how to deal with it is changing…

Yesterday, the inhabitants of northern Japan awoke to a dire warning. Shortly after 6am, the following alert was broadcast on loudspeakers and through mobile phones: “A missile was fired from North Korea. Please evacuate to a sturdy building or basement.” People took fright. “Even if we get these alerts there’s nowhere to run,” said one.

In the end, the missile flew over the island of Hokkaido before breaking up and landing harmlessly in the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese authorities had predicted this — they did not try to shoot it down.

But they reacted strongly with words. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the launch an “unprecedented, grave and serious threat”. The UN Security Council convened an emergency meeting. President Trump said that “all options are on the table” when it comes to dealing with North Korea.

The provocation follows a period of heightened tension between the rogue state and its enemies. The USA has been conducting its regular joint military exercises with Japan and South Korea; these events tend to anger North Korea.

In recent weeks, Kim Jong-un’s regime has test-launched several missiles, including ones that could potentially reach the USA’s East Coast. It has threatened to attack the US territory of Guam. Meanwhile, US intelligence officials have concluded that the country is ready to equip its missiles with nuclear warheads.

Trump has reacted to Pyongyang’s aggression by amping up his rhetoric. He warned that further threats would be met with “fire and fury”. His administration is sticking to the position that the USA has more or less maintained for decades: North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons or face consequences.

However, a growing number of experts are calling for a different approach. They argue that North Korea will not get rid of its nuclear arms, which Kim calls his “treasured sword of justice”. It is time that the USA accepted this, and focused on deterring Kim from ever using them.

Who is right?

Korean missile crisis

The current strategy is correct, say some. Tacitly allowing North Korea to remain a nuclear power would be dangerous. It would be an insult to Japan and South Korea, its vulnerable neighbours. It would signal to Kim that the West is weak. And it would encourage other nations to develop their own nuclear arms. The USA must stick to its guns.

Think about it, reply others. As long as Kim knows that a strike on the USA or its allies would spell the end of his regime, he will not attack. This approach worked against far greater foes like Mao and Stalin. Meanwhile, the USA should show some goodwill by proposing diplomatic talks without any strings attached. That is the only way to defuse the tension.

You Decide

  1. Is the USA’s current stance on North Korea working?
  2. Is Kim mad?


  1. What should Trump’s message to Kim be? Write it in the length of a tweet.
  2. Then flesh it out as a speech, to be delivered by Trump tomorrow morning.

Some People Say...

“It’s a near miracle that nuclear war has so far been avoided.”

— Noam Chomsky

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
According to early analysis, the missile was probably a Hwasong-12, the intermediate-range model that North Korea threatened to use on Guam. It seems to have been launched shortly before 6am local time from Pyongyang’s airport, flying 1,678 miles before breaking into three pieces above the ocean. It was probably not meant to disintegrate.
What do we not know?
Exactly what North Korea’s intention was in firing the missile. A government spokesman said it was a retaliation against the US military exercises in the region. Analysts also see it as a test of the Hwasong-12’s trajectory, and a veiled threat to Guam. North Korea has fired two rockets over Japan, in 1998 and 2009, but it said that those — unlike this one — were only satellite tests, and not military in nature.

Word Watch

The northernmost main island of Japan, Hokkaido is a mountainous, sparsely populated place.
UN Security Council
The UN organ responsible for maintaining international peace and security. It has 15 members at any one time, of which five are permanent: the USA, the UK, France, China and Russia.
Joint military exercises
It is common for troops from allied nations to act out imaginary military operations together as a form of training. South Korea and Japan are both close US allies, and host huge numbers of American troops.
Although this assessment was confidential, it was leaked to The Washington Post, which reported it on August 8th.
North Korea’s capital.
A number of times, notably in 1994, the USA struck a deal with North Korea which required the latter to freeze its nuclear programme in exchange for aid. But the North Korean regime kept cheating and manufacturing weapons in secret.
Mao and Stalin
Mao Zedong was the leader of communist China from 1949 to 1976. Joseph Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s to 1953.


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