At least it wasn’t Guam, right? Er … not exactly. Japan issued an angry response after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Hokkaido, the first time in almost 20 years that Pyongyang has violated Japan’s sovereign air space:
North Korea launched three ballistic missiles Tuesday morning and at least one of them flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, public broadcaster NHK reported. The government issued an alert for residents in some prefectures to take cover.
Although North Korea has sent a missile over Japan once before – in 1998 – this launch comes at a time of heightened tensions. Pyongyang has been threatening to fire a missile over Japan and into the waters around the American territory of Guam.
“We’ll make the utmost effort to protect the public,” a visibly agitated Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, told reporters at his office early Tuesday morning.
Be sure to read Andrew’s post from earlier today for more background on the action in North Korea. This launch clearly had more malign intent than Saturday’s short-range missile test. But how malign, and with what intent? CNN reports that observers initially presumed that the missiles would get aimed at Guam:
Another US official says US spy satellites had been observing preparations for a ballistic missile test that would most likely be an intermediate range missile that could reach Guam. The official says the assessment is ongoing.
Reuters notes that the Japan refrained from demonstrating its missile defense system. It may have been a failed launch, though:
Public broadcaster NHK reported that the missile broke into three pieces and fell into the waters off Japan’s Hokkaido. …
The Japanese military did not attempt to shoot down the missile, which passed over Japanese territory around 6:06 a.m. time (2106 GMT).
South Korea’s military said the projectile was fired from the Sunan region near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang just before 6 a.m. (2100 GMT Monday).
Why did it break into three pieces before hitting its target? Maybe that’s normal, but it’s odd enough for most news agencies to include that detail in their reporting. If it was a failure, perhaps the targeting was also malfunctioning. It seems odd that only one of the three missiles would have been aimed at Japan’s airspace if provocation was the intent. Furthermore, an attempted launch on Saturday of three short-range missiles did turn out to be a failure in at least one of the cases.
Equally odd is this choice of target, which is considerably north as well as east of Pyongyang. Guam is in a very different direction. The area in which the one missile flew would have some significant Russian merchant-marine and commercial traffic, one would presume. Either this was a very bad targeting area, or Kim Jong-un’s spreading the saber-rattling around more.