Japan May Mobilize Interceptors Prior to North Korean Rocket Launch

Japanese Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles, shown in 2009 outside Japan’s Defense Ministry in Tokyo. Japan on Tuesday indicated it might deploy PAC-3 interceptors in response to North Korean plans to launch a long-range rocket next month (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye).
Japanese Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles, shown in 2009 outside Japan’s Defense Ministry in Tokyo. Japan on Tuesday indicated it might deploy PAC-3 interceptors in response to North Korean plans to launch a long-range rocket next month (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye).

Japan could mobilize advanced Patriot missile interceptors in response to North Korea's pending launch of a long-range rocket. Tokyo has left open the possibility of an intercept attempt if it feels the rocket endangers the island nation, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday (see GSN, March 20).

Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka on Wednesday said the government was weighing options for handling a number of outcomes stemming from the rocket launch, which the North has said will take place in mid-April. Those options include the fielding of interceptor-equipped warships and transportable land-based interceptor launchers. The defense chief said the specifics of Japan's response plans are still being developed.

News organizations and defense officials have hinted Tokyo will probably dispatch destroyers outfitted with Aegis antimissile technology to the East China Sea and the Pacific and send mobile interceptor launch units to islands in Okinawa, which lies near the rocket's announced flight path.

"We are considering mobilizing [Patriot Advanced Capability 3] missiles to Okinawa Island, or to Ishigaki or Sakishima islands, to defend our country against any contingencies," Vice Defense Minister Shu Watanabe said on Tuesday.

North Korea has said its Unha 3 rocket would travel above western Japan, which has caused worry in Tokyo that a problematic launch or a malfunctioning rocket component could put at risk Japanese civilians (Eric Talmadge, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, March 21).

Pyongyang's declared plans to fire a satellite into space have been widely denounced by Japan, South Korea and the United States, which suspect the launch is merely a cover for another long-range ballistic missile test that would be prohibited under U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The heads of state from the three allies will join their Chinese and Russian counterparts at next week's Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul for a strategy session on convincing the North to abandon its rocket launch, Agence France-Presse reported (see related GSN story, today).

The five countries plus Pyongyang form the six-party talks -- a moribund process aimed at permanent North Korean denuclearization.

"The North's move to launch the so-called satellite has created a new topic of discussions at the summit, and it's an urgent timing," South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on Wednesday. The high-profile international security forum is scheduled for March 26-27 in Seoul.

"The five nations share similar views on this," Lee said. "The best option is for the five nations to try to persuade North Korea to cancel the plan."

The North claims the rocket launch will be peaceful in nature and that it has the right to a space exploration program. 

"No matter what the North's excuse is, the launch is a clear breach of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874," Lee told journalists. "It is breaking a promise with all the countries around the world."

Recent momentum toward resuming the aid-for-denuclearization negotiations, last held in December 2008, has been jeopardized by Pyongyang's announcement last week of its rocket launch plans. The United States has warned the event would mean the end for a bilateral deal in which the North would receive 240,000 metric tons of U.S. food aid in exchange for halting certain nuclear weapon-related activities and pledging not to carry out further nuclear or missile tests.

"We had high expectations, but now we have this happening," the South Korean president said. 

"Although we cannot say conclusively, this new development will have a great impact on the assessment of the North, particularly in trust," Lee said (Agence France-Presse I/Channel News Asia, March 21).

South Korean Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik on Wednesday said his government would not show leniency in its response to a North Korean rocket firing, though options for future inter-Korean engagement will not be taken off the table, ITAR-Tass reported (ITAR-Tass, March 21).

Pyongyang alerted Washington of its intention to fire a long-range rocket into space shortly before the mid-December death of dictator Kim Jong Il, several Wednesday news articles said.

Using informal communication methods in New York, the North let the the United States know the satellite launch would be carried out as part of activities to celebrate the birth 100 years ago of regime founder Kim Il Sung, the Korea Herald reported.

U.S. special envoy Glyn Davies last month told North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan that Washington would consider the launch a serious violation of deals between the two countries, an anonymous source told the Yonhap News Agency.

Announcement of the pending rocket launch, mere weeks after the North finished negotiating the nuclear shutdown-for-food aid deal with the United States, demonstrates the new regime's inexperience, Sejong Institute researcher Cheong Seong-chang said.

"If North Korea wanted something more effective, the agreement should have come later than the announcement of the satellite launch,” Cheong told the Herald. “The decision dealt a heavy blow to the credibility of the Kim Jong Un regime. The North will not have much room to maneuver in future negotiations with the U.S. and it will not be able to expect nutritional assistance either" (Kim Yoon-mi, Korea Herald, March 21).

The Philippines and Australia on Wednesday both added their voices to a chorus of countries that have denounced North Korea's launch plans, AFP reported.

"As recently as three weeks ago, North Korea agreed in talks with the United States to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches," Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said. "I call on North Korea to follow through on this recent assurance and its previous commitments and abandon its launch plan."

The Philippines Foreign Affairs Department in a provided statement said: "We express grave concern over (North Korea's) announced plan to launch a satellite between April 12 and 16 which we find unacceptable" (Agence France-Presse II/Channel News Asia, March 21).

March 21, 2012
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Japan could mobilize advanced Patriot missile interceptors in response to North Korea's pending launch of a long-range rocket. Tokyo has left open the possibility of an intercept attempt if it feels the rocket endangers the island nation, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

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