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Tread path forward on N. Korea with care

The Yomiuri Shimbun

From left: Toshiyuki Ito,Yukio Okamoto, and Shunji Hiraiwa

The Yomiuri ShimbunNorth Korea used its state-run media to announce the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. What is North Korea’s end goal? How should Japan and the rest of the international community respond to the increasingly serious threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles? We asked three experts for their views.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 5, 2017)

Check preparations for possible missile landings

Toshiyuki Ito / Professor at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology Toranomon Graduate School

The missile launch on July 4 is believed to have been a test-fire of an ICBM that could reach the U.S. mainland, which is consistent with North Korean announcements.

An ICBM is a type of ballistic missile with a range of over 5,500 kilometers. The July 4 missile used a lofted trajectory, using an altitude higher than a standard trajectory, with an approximately 40-minute flight time. If it ascends directly upward for 20 minutes, it can reach an altitude of nearly 3,000 kilometers. In the case of a normal trajectory in a horizontal direction, it is calculated to be able to travel 7,000 kilometers — a range that would include Alaska on the U.S. mainland. For the United States, this launch became the first case wherein a North Korean missile could reach the U.S. mainland.

In May, North Korea launched a newly designed intermediate-range ballistic missile known as a Hwasong-12, reaching an altitude of approximately 2,000 kilometers. In a normal trajectory in a horizontal direction, the missile is said to have a range of 5,000 kilometers. This missile is believed to have twice the engine power of a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile, which has a range of 2,500 to 4,000 kilometers. Viewing pictures released of the recent Hwasong-14 missile, it appears to have added a stage to the Hwasong-12 missile to extend its range.

North Korea is believed to have repeatedly fired ballistic missiles from this spring to display the power of its deterrence against the United States to its citizens, and to quell protests that might occur should the nation change its policy from the current hard-line stance to one based in dialogue.

Moreover, North Korea showed the United States for the first time through this launch that it can reach the United States.

After this, it is unlikely North Korea will conduct a sixth nuclear test. The shock the United States would receive from any subsequent nuclear test would be immense. The Kim Jong Un administration will not conduct another nuclear test if it realizes the test could trigger a discussion in the United States about starting a second Korean War. However, the North Korean administration will proceed with the test if it can determine such an act would not cause war. Whether the United States will launch a preemptive strike on North Korea depends on a decision by the administration led by President Donald Trump regarding their stance on a second Korean War.

What is important for Japan is to prepare for the possibility of missiles landing in Japanese territory.

To use an ICBM as a nuclear weapon, North Korea must independently obtain data on the incidence angle of a warhead during its atmospheric reentry. As a very large number of tests would need to be conducted to determine the data, there is the possibility of a missile surpassing the Japanese archipelago or landing in Japanese territory.

To anticipate this, there are two actions Japan must undertake. First, measures based on the Civil Protection Law should be thoroughly carried out. The central and local governments must swiftly examine their responses to possible missile landings.

Second, the land-based Aegis system — called the Aegis Ashore — which is currently under consideration by the government as a measure to strengthen missile defense, should be introduced. If the Ground Self-Defense Force uses the Aegis Ashore system, the nation will have comprehensive missile defense preparation among the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces.

It is imperative for cooperation not just between Japan and the United States, but also with South Korea, to be fully strengthened.

(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Tatsuya Fukumoto)

— Ito is a former vice admiral of the Maritime Self-Defense Force. After finishing his term as the commandant of the Kure District Headquarters, he retired from the MSDF in August 2015. He now works as a guest researcher of the Canon Institute for Global Studies. He is 59.

Abe must maintain his diplomatic strength

Yukio Okamoto / Foreign Policy Critic

The policy of North Korea has been consistent throughout. Their ultimate national goal is to possess nuclear missiles that would be able to reach the U.S. mainland. The launch of a missile that North Korea refers to as an intercontinental ballistic missile is part of that plan. This particular point in time may have been chosen not only for national self-aggrandizement, but also in consideration of the effect it could have on the national congress of the Communist Party of China, scheduled to be held in autumn — a massively important event to China.

There is a high probability that North Korea will perform additional missile launches while continuing to force through nuclear tests. North Korea will cross the “red line” that U.S. hard-liners consider to be the starting point to call for military action when North Korea possesses missiles with a long enough range to accurately hit the west coast of the U.S. mainland and has successfully miniaturized and reduced the weight on a nuclear warhead so that it could be carried by such a missile.

Even if North Korea does cross that red line, the United States will not and cannot take military action, in reality. The United States considered a military strike on North Korea when the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula had heightened from 1993 to 1994 but decided not to attack the country when it considered the significant causalities that would result from expected retaliatory strikes. North Korea’s second-strike capability has improved significantly since that time. Some people believe a localized attack such as firing cruise missiles at a Syrian air base by the U.S. military in April this year would not invite a retaliatory strike, but given the difficulty of predicting the actions of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, military action would be a difficult prospect.

That is likely why the administration led by U.S. President Donald Trump is aiming to pressure the nation in nonmilitary fields. The administration deserves praise for instituting secondary sanctions on June 29 against entities such as a Chinese bank that has done business with North Korea. In fact, more thorough sanctions should have been instituted much sooner. Up until this point North Korea lacked the ability to attack the U.S. mainland, so U.S. administrations failed to have any real sense of danger and did little to deal with the problem. China’s uncooperative stance is also an issue, but neither the United States nor China have worked to discuss the future of the Korean Peninsula, for example.

As a result, the international community has been faced with the serious reality that North Korea cannot be stopped.

North Korea will absolutely not give up its procurement and development of nuclear weapons and missiles, as its goal is to bring about direct negotiations with the United States. If North Korea becomes a nuclear power, how should we negotiate with the country to remove their nuclear capabilities? It is likely to be the beginning of a long and difficult road of talks.

In such an instance, it will be most important for Japan to reflect its position on U.S. policy. An agreement that only includes something like a temporary freeze on nuclear and missile development is undesirable, and beyond the issue of ICBMs, there is also the problem of short and intermediate-range Rodong and Scud missiles. A personal relationship between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump is important, and strengthening Japan’s own defense capabilities is also vital.  

In the past several months, the approval rating of the Abe Cabinet has swiftly dropped, but I do not believe there will be a negative shift in approval for his foreign policy or on the topic of national defense. The United States continues to have high expectations for Abe’s diplomatic strength.

(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Yujiro Okabe)

— Okamoto has served in various positions for the Foreign Ministry, including director of the First North America Division. After retiring early, he worked as a special adviser to prime ministers Ryutaro Hashimoto and Junichiro Koizumi. He is a senior fellow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is 71.

6-party talks on N. Korea a realistic measure

Shunji Hiraiwa / Professor at Nanzan University

North Korea’s announcement that it has succeeded in launching an intercontinental ballistic missile is a clear message that it has obtained the ability to attack the United States. North Korea believes it has achieved the terms for direct talks with the United States and is now watching that country’s next move.

The United States seems to have no choice but to enter into talks with North Korea. The United States has intensified pressure on North Korea while asking China to follow suit, but U.S. President Donald Trump himself acknowledges that has failed. Also, taking military action against North Korea is difficult, as any expected counterattack from the North Korean military would be most likely to result in casualties among U.S. citizens living in South Korea and Japan, as well as the families of U.S. military personnel stationed in those countries.

The allied nations have fallen into a stalemate because their pressure on North Korea is insufficient. For example, it turned out that the USS Carl Vinson was temporarily moving to Indonesia, although the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier had been declared to be heading in the opposite direction toward North Korea. I received an impression of inconsistency when U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster agreed to put continuous pressure on North Korea while simultaneously examining the possibility of dialogue toward denuclearization during talks with his South Korean counterpart in June.

Viewing this U.S. position, North Korea has likely concluded there will be no military reprimand in its future. In April, the United States displayed its serious attitude regarding military action when it fired cruise missiles at an air base in Syria. The United States should have consistently pressured North Korea.

The last choice for the United States is to freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile development through talks and to search for a path toward having the nation abandon its nuclear program. Even though a recent ICBM launch was successful, there is likely no desire for North Korea to proceed to the step of actually deploying missiles.

However, the path forward is rocky. North Korea has a deep distrust of the United States. North Korea keeps in mind the fall of the regime of Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi — defeated by Western military forces after Libya gave up its missiles and nuclear ambitions. North Korea is not likely to give up its nuclear program nor its missiles so easily.

Neighboring countries also have a complicated variety of views. South Korea’s administration headed by Moon Jae In, who came into power in May, foresees a U.S. deadlock with the North Korean issue and is believed to be trying to serve as an intermediary to facilitate U.S.-North Korean talks. It is also possible the U.S. military’s deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, which has worsened relations between the United States and China, would become unnecessary if U.S.-North Korean talks could be realized. The basic stance of the Moon administration is to reconcile North and South Korea on the Korean Peninsula. China is also likely aiming to act as an intermediary in the talks, as well.

It is a realistic scenario wherein Japan would work to restart six-party talks with North Korea and be a part of it. To accomplish that, the nation must continuously remind the Trump administration that North Korea is a grave threat to security in East Asia. Strengthening missile defense against North Korea is essential as an immediate measure.

(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Shinsuke Yasuda)

— Hiraiwa has held positions including researcher at the Japanese Embassy in China, professor of the University of Shizuoka and a professor of Kwansei Gakuin University. He took up his current position in April this year. He has authored books that include “Dokusai Kokka Ki-tachosen no Jitsuzo” (Dictatorship: the truth about North Korea). He is 56.

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