01 September 2017

News Story: North Korea's missile launch - Why Japan?

By Shingo ITO

When nuclear-armed North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan this week, it sparked international condemnation. But it also raised the question: Why Japan?

Location, location, location

It might seem obvious, but geography is frequently a huge factor in geopolitical wrangling.

The Japanese archipelago forms a long string off the coast of mainland north Asia, so by definition, any regional player that wants to fire a medium- or long-range missile into the Pacific has to go over it.

Tuesday's projectile travelled around 2,700 kilometres (1,700 miles) from its launch site near Pyongyang before crashing into the ocean, around 1,200 kilometres off Japan's northern Hokkaido island.

Having threatened a few weeks ago to fire missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam -- around 3,500 kilometres away -- the range could have been selected to remind Washington that Pyongyang has the capacity to follow through.

But unlike cashing that cheque and risking conflict with the world's top military power, firing missiles over pacifist Japan was not likely to provoke an armed response.

So, Tuesday's launch let Pyongyang rattle a major US ally, which hosts American military bases and tens of thousands of US troops, while showing it has the ability to strike Guam if it wants to.

"It is also sending a message that Japan is well within its sights if a war breaks out," Professor Koh Yu-Hwan at Dongguk University told AFP.

Read the full story at SpaceDaily