WASHINGTON – North Korea today expanded its saber-rattling, which earlier included threats against South Korea and the United States, to target Japan, which the renegade nation is claiming is conspiring with the U.S. to pose a military threat.
Specifically, the North Koreans took aim at the prospect that the U.S. intends to use Japan to deploy Global Hawk drones. It claims the U.S. intends to use a base there to launch the flights to keep a closer eye on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“This military nexus is bound to entail unpredictable consequences as it is a dangerous action of escalating the regional tension,” a North Korean statement said.
The U.S. had indicated that it would begin to send pilotless drones over the DPRK as a form of Indications and Warning, or I&W, to determine its preparedness in moving troops and especially missiles.
“We once again warn Japan against blindly toeing the U.S. policy,” the North Korean ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said. “It will have to pay a dear price for its imprudent behavior.”
Japan’s concerns over North Korea’s threat to launch missiles with nuclear weapons have prompted the Japanese government to consider developing its own nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
In turn, such a major policy change by Japan will get the attention of China, which remains leery of Tokyo since the end of World War II.
However, Beijing may have more concern over the possession of nuclear weapons and delivery systems by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, over whom Beijing has discovered it has little influence.
Indeed, China’s inability to prevent North Korea from undertaking recent missile and nuclear tests prompted Beijing to vote in favor of sanctions against North Korea in the United Nations Security Council.
North Korea has threatened to launch missiles, possibly on the occasion of the 101st anniversary of the birth of the founder of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, on April 15. The rogue nation also recently threatened to strike U.S. military bases in Japan, some of which are located among the 33 million residents of the Tokyo region.
Japan has been vocal in threatening to shoot down any North Korean missiles that use a flight path over Japan, using some of the Aegis anti-ballistic missile systems the U.S. delivered to Japan.
In addition to Aegis systems, Japan also has deployed Patriot anti-missile batteries in and around Tokyo as a second line of defense, with the Aegis systems being positioned closer to North Korea itself between the Korean peninsula and Japan.
The U.S. military also has its own Patriot batteries which are located on bases in Okinawa, the Japanese island that has some 50,000 members of the U.S. military.
There are increasing indications that the North Koreans are readying their Musudan medium-range missile, which would be capable of reaching not only Japan but also Guam where the U.S. has a considerable military presence.
U.S. satellites have been able to pinpoint at least two sites in recent days where North Korean missiles could be launched. Both are located on the east coast of the DPRK. However, the trajectory for the missiles remains unknown.
The new leadership in Japan, however, promises a more militant approach to North Korean threats.
Japan’s recently elected prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is more hawkish and is pushing for Japan to revise its constitution and develop more of an offensive military capability.
Given the threats to Japan from North Korea, this could include the development of nuclear weapons. Japan certainly has the industrial capacity to do so.
Already, what is regarded as a “third force” in Japanese party politics is being led by Shintaro Ishihara, who recently was the governor of Tokyo. He is regarded as even more hawkish than Abe and not only has called for revision of the Japanese constitution but to develop nuclear weapons.
Similarly, Shingeru Ishiba, a former Japanese defense minister, is making a similar call for nuclear weapons development, saying it is “a tacit nuclear deterrent.” Ishiba is an influential member of the Japanese Diet, or parliament.
Both Ishihara and Ishiba are regarded as major players in Japan’s governing coalition, which is led by Abe. They also advocate maintaining Japan’s nuclear power program despite public opposition, seeing it as a potential source for nuclear weapons development and the deterrent to which Ishiba referred.
To date, neither the U.S. nor the International Atomic Energy Agency, the international nuclear watchdog, has commented publicly on the prospect that Japan could go the way of developing nuclear weapons.
Ishihara is said to be a nationalist and is critical of Japan’s Chinese residents. He led the push recently for Japan to buy the disputed islands of Senkaku-Diaoyu, which has created a jurisdictional issue with China, which claims the islands are in its sphere of influence.
Nevertheless, Beijing for now has not publicly challenged Tokyo over the potential that it might consider a more assertive military position, including the possibility of developing nuclear weapons.
Beijing sees North Korea’s Kim, over whom it apparently now has little influence, as a more immediate concern.
While China has been critical of 29-year-old Kim and has called for a resumption of the six-party talks, Beijing would be happier if North Korea’s young leader would go away, thereby dampening the potential prospect that Japan or even South Korea would develop their own nuclear weapons.