North Korea has launched a 12 ballistic missile that passed over northern Japan, landing 155 miles east of the country. After a series of surprisingly successful missile tests, it appears that the development of North Korean missile capability has moved faster than expected.

North Korea apparently notified Russian authorities in advance of the launch of their rocket, either a Deapodong-1 or a HWASONG-12. Russian officials, however, said that the missile escaped their tracking system, with the first stage of the rocket landing on the edge of Russian territorial waters near Vladivostok. The missile in question has the potential for a 1000 kg nuclear payload.

It was postulated that the trajectory and path of the rocket was inadvertent. If true, this is small consolation, as it shows that North Korea has no qualms about missile testing despite the risk that a possible accident may ignite a military confrontation. North Korea subsequently made a statement that the missile launch was a prelude to a coming attack on Guam.

This is not the first time that North Korea has sent rockets over Japan. Launches of (it is thought) satellites in 1998 and 2009 passed over the island country, but the recent incident comes at a time when the region has become a powder keg, largely due to Kim Jong-Un’s increasingly hostile actions and rhetoric against its neighbors. The North Korean leader has authorized over 80 missile tests, more than his father and grandfather combined.

The Japanese government’s response is to condemn the launch and to withdraw support for the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, a program meant to support peaceful nuclear technology. In addition, Japanese broadcasters report that the government urged citizens in at-risk areas to utilize underground shelters. Despite this, no attempt to shoot down the missile was made.

Such a response is inadequate. The situation has reached the point where nothing less is warranted than the targeting and destruction of future missiles that approach other countries in the region.

Intercepting North Korean missiles is not an offensive action; it is simply self-defense. The North Korean regime must know that aggressive actions will result in consequences, and that defense systems of neighboring countries will be effective in countering any contemplated acts of war.

The question is whether those defense systems are, indeed, effective. This has not been proven with any reasonable assurance. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency announced Wednesday that it successfully shot down a medium-range ballistic missile off the coast of Hawaii in a new test of its missile defense system at sea. The USS John Paul Jones, a guided-missile destroyer successfully launched an SM-6 interceptor missile to shoot down the target. This test comes after a previous failed test in June from the same warship.

And can a serious missile defense system be installed in at-risk areas? South Korea’s government has been conciliatory to its northern neighbor of late, and has been resistant to the rapid deployment of anti-missile measures by the U.S.

Any military scenario would likely involve the launching of multiple warheads simultaneously by Kim Jong-Un. Even if it were possible to shoot down one missile targeting a U.S. ally, the likelihood of counteracting a multiple launch offensive is small.

Therefore, it must be understood that, by itself, fiery rhetoric is insufficient to prevent a rogue nation from (purposefully or inadvertently) causing an international incident. Unless Kim Jong-Un is shown that his ballistic missiles can be intercepted, he will be emboldened to make good on his threats of destruction upon his perceived enemies.

Joe Alton MD

Joe and Amy Alton

Joe and Amy Alton