Japan plans to deal with the provocative North Korean missile launches

North Korean test missile flies 500 km, lands in Sea of Japan

Residents in northern Japan were woken abruptly Friday by blaring air raid sirens signaling a North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missile was about to fly over their heads.

It was the second time in just over two weeks the rogue state had fired a projectile over Japanese territory, a provocation which was immediately condemned by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The missile passed over the northern island of Hokkaido where anxious residents told local media they didn’t understand why North Korea was acting so antagonistically.


Abe’s government have sought closer ties with the United States while working to change Japan’s post-World War II constitution to allow the country to actively defend itself against external threats.

“If the government gets its way, it’s quite conceivable Abe will use this to try to revise the constitution to ‘normalize’ Japan’s defense position,” Koichi Nakano, Political Science professor at Sophia University said.

The constitution came into effect in 1947, after Japan’s defeat in World War II, and says “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential will never be maintained.” The Japanese military is currently known as the Self-Defense Forces.

But Heigo Sato, vice president of the Institute of World Studies at Takushoku University, told CNN Abe was first and foremost trying to change the constitution to legalize Japan’s current armed forces.


Nuclear Deal 

Speaking to CNN on Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said while he was in charge there would be no nuclear weapons in his country, no matter what the North does.

Japan is the only country in the world to suffer the effects of an atomic explosion within a civilian setting. The bombings, which occurred in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have colored attitudes to nuclear weapons ever since

Additionally, it is still recovering from the nuclear disaster at Fukushima power plant in 2011, when an earthquake followed by a tsunami blew out safety systems and triggered a meltdown.

“The opposition to the idea of Japan going nuclear is even stronger obviously than the idea of revising (the constitution) … even the discussion of that continues to be taboo,” Nakano said.

But a nuclear South Korea under Moon or another leader could change that, Tong Zhao, fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, told CNN.

“If South Korea pursued its own nuclear program, Japan will feel a great pressure to follow suit and there will be broader implications in China and Russia,” he said.


Arms race in East Asia

Japan already has a number of defensive options to deal with a missile fired out of North Korea, experts say.

Naval destroyers fitted with Aegis missile defense systems can be positioned to shoot down projectiles, but the system is far from perfect, Zhao said.

Zhao said, in an effort to deter North Korea, Japan could provoke an arms race in East Asia with South Korea, China and even Russia.

“North Korea is performing provocatively, no doubt about it … but the tense conditions are not just about North Korea but about China and the US as well,” he said.