Editorial: North Korean missile launch

Destabilizing provocation is intolerable

North Korea has launched what is effectively a long-range ballistic missile. Although pressed by neighboring countries to suspend it, North Korea went ahead with the launch, a reckless act that destabilizes international order. This outrage simply cannot be tolerated.

North Korea claims it was a satellite, but the launch clearly violated resolutions by the United Nations Security Council calling on North Korea to refrain from carrying out launches using ballistic missile technology. The Security Council has said it will call an emergency session to consider future measures, such as tighter sanctions on North Korea.

If North Korea is attempting to inflame military tensions in order to extract concessions such as economic assistance, it will not wash with the international community. North Korea must recognize that this act merely further isolates it and casts its citizens adrift.

Debris from the missile landed off the east coast of the Philippines, and the missile’s flight path was consistent with the one that had been announced by North Korea. We must renew a shared awareness of the threat posed by this “success.”

The missile is believed to have been an upgraded version of the Taepodong 2, with an estimated range of 6,000 kilometers. This means that North Korea has acquired technology enabling it to launch missiles that not only threaten East Asia but that can come very close to the mainland of the United States.

Equipped with a nuclear warhead, one of these missiles would expose the entire world to the threat of nuclear weapons. Perhaps North Korea wants to gain an edge in negotiations with the U.S. as a nuclear-armed state. With the “success” of this launch, North Korea may put more effort into developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that would reach the U.S. mainland.

North Korea’s missile launches in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests. The government of South Korea has said that North Korea is preparing for its third nuclear test. How to prevent this is the most critical issue facing the Security Council.

The launch of the missile offers a glimpse of the impatience of Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s most powerful person.

In February he obtained the agreement of the U.S. and South Korea to provide food aid, but it was suspended following the missile launch in April. The food shortage in North Korea has grown more acute, and there seems to be growing dissatisfaction among the military and ordinary citizens.

The missile launch also followed the “instructions” of the late Kim Jong Il, who died one year ago December 17. North Korea is also believed to have wanted to strengthen the regime this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung.

Members of the international community must cooperate closely to ensure that channels of communication remain open so that these provocations will not escalate further.

The Japanese government has stated that it will seek a tough Security Council resolution that includes tighter financial sanctions on North Korea. The government also said that, depending on the situation, it may consider its own additional sanctions.

But Japan tightened its economic sanctions after North Korea’s previous missile launches and nuclear tests as well. The effectiveness of such measures is limited, and although pressure on North Korea was stepped up, it has not led to a resolution of the problem.

Meanwhile Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto has demonstrated his recognition of the need to strengthen Japan’s missile defense system. He must not forget to show a willingness to resolve the matter diplomatically also.

The key lies in how China, which has friendly ties with North Korea, addresses the situation. This challenge will test the diplomatic skills of the regime of Xi Jinping, which is soon to be launched. As a permanent member of the Security Council, China must take a firm stance and do some serious soul-searching.

Japan needs to work toward the resumption of the six-party talks. Russia criticized North Korea, saying the missile launch “flouts the opinion of the international community.” In order to make good use of the six-nation framework, it is essential that Japan mend fences with China and South Korea. It is also time for Japan to rework its overall diplomatic strategy for East Asia.

(Originally published on December 13, 2012)