Residents of Erimomisaki, Japan woke up this morning to a missile flying above them. The ballistic missile was fired from Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and South Korea responded by doing a large-scale test bombing run near the border between the nations. The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, said that he had a 40 minute conversation with President Donald Trump, who said afterward that “all options are on the table.”
The missile landed more than 1,000km off the shore of Japan, and no pieces of the missile have been found on the ground in Japan. Analysts were mixed on exactly what message North Korea is trying to send with the launch. Some have pointed out that this is not the first time launch materials from North Korea have flown over Japan, as the country’s repeated attempts to launch satellites over the last two decades frequently sent them over Japan. CNN quotes a senior research associate from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies: “If they’re going to launch to a distance they’ve got to go over somebody. It looks to me like a risk reduction measure, they want to reduce the populated areas they fly over just in case anything goes wrong.”
Then again, North Korea has not tested ballistic missiles through Japanese airspace, nor have they launched from Pyongyang recently. Their last three missile launches came from the province of Kangwon, and did not travel over another nation. Thus, other analysts deduce that this launch is meant to send a message that North Korea can launch from more than one area, and that its neighbors should be nervous about that.
Abe said the missile launch represents a “most serious and grave” threat. Clearly, South Korea agrees, as Yoon Young-chan, the head of South Korea’s Presidential Public Affairs Office, said that eight one-ton MK-84 bombs had been dropped by fighter jets at a shooting range near the border with North Korea. South Korea also released footage of a missile launch of their own, displaying a missile with a range of 800km from a truck-mounted launcher.
Kim Jong Un has traded insults and threats with Donald Trump for months, and both sides seem uninterested in any kind of de-escalation. Some analysts believe North Korea will have active long-range nuclear missiles by the end of Trump’s presidential term. South Korea, Japan, and the US are currently trying to bring North Korea to the negotiating table to stop that from happening, and Trump has tried to pressure China (North Korea’s one ally) into helping them achieve that goal.