North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan on Monday night in the US, a rare and highly provocative action that could bring tensions between Washington and Pyongyang back to dangerous levels.
The missile flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido at 6:06 am local Japanese time, according to Japan’s state broadcaster NHK, landing in the waters 1,180 kilometers (about 733 miles) east of Hokkaido’s Cape Erimo. The launch prompted Japanese officials to issue a warning asking citizens to “evacuate to a sturdy building or basement." The Pentagon has confirmed the launch and said it did not pose a threat to the United States.
"All options are on the table," President Donald Trump said in a statement this morning. The administration prefers a diplomacy-first approach toward North Korea but hasn’t ruled out a military response.
“We'll make the utmost effort to protect the public,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters immediately after the launch as he headed into a hastily called national security meeting. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said this was a huge threat to his country.
"We have to say that this morning's launch by the North is the most serious and grave threat ever to us, as the missile seems to have passed through our airspace," Suga told reporters after the launch. "It could endanger peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region."
Though it has done so before — in 1998 and 2009 — North Korea typically avoids sending its missiles over US allies Japan and South Korea during tests because such action is taken as open provocation and could lead to military or other retaliation.
But with yesterday’s launch, Kim Jong Un clearly wanted to send a message. That’s partially because 3,500 Japanese and American troops just completed an 18-day military exercise on Hokkaido.
Also, Japan participated in missile defense exercises at three US bases on Tuesday local time. Japan is improving its anti-missile abilities in part because of North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile programs. The US and South Korea are also currently in the middle of a war game, which North Korea finds provocative.
This latest launch will only add to the tensions between the United States and North Korea. Earlier this month, President Trump threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on Pyongyang if it continued to threaten the United States. In response, Pyongyang threatened to launch missiles near the US territory of Guam. North Korea eventually stood down and said it would continue to watch US actions before deciding on future moves.
The relative period of calm is surely about to end.