North Korea staged its 18th, and perhaps most provocative, missile test of the year Monday night Eastern Time over Japan’s northernmost main island, following a month in which North Korean and American leaders have traded threats.
The missile, whose launch was confirmed by the Pentagon and South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff, flew 1,678 miles over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido for approximately 14 minutes before breaking into three pieces and crashing into the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese military did not attempt to shoot down the missile, though it did alert those within its range to take necessary precautions. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking to reporters early Tuesday morning local time, said the government is doing its utmost to protect Japanese citizens from what he called an “unprecedented, grave, and serious threat.”
The flight path was alarming, though not unprecedented. As The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda reported earlier this month, a North Korean missile (nominally a satellite launch vehicle) flew over Japan in 1998. Per Panda, “That test generated immense controversy and precipitated its self-imposed testing moratorium. While the moratorium spectacularly collapsed in 2006, North Korea has never since overflown Japan with any missiles with the exception of its failed 2009 launch of the Taepodong-2 SLV, which landed in the Pacific.” More recently, North Korean missiles have landed in Japanese waters, prompting condemnation from Japan but little change in posture, Panda notes.