North Korea’s Missile Tests Raise Concern Among Pacific Nations

Photo courtesy of Micha Brändli at

Amanda Salanitri, Staff Writer

On October 4, North Korea launched an intermediate ballistic missile from the capital city of Pyongyang over their neighboring country Japan. While the test resulted in neither injuries nor deaths, the implications of this demonstration raised concern among Pacific nations and their allies. Countries such as Japan, the United States, and South Korea, all having a complicated history with North Korea, have released statements condemning the test, while also responding with tests of their own defensive weapons.

North Korea, a nuclear-armed nation, hadn’t tested missiles over Japan since 2017. The uptick in overall testing has caused concern among the international community. According to CSIS’ Missile Defense Project, missile tests by North Korea have been conducted well over 30 times during 2022. However, the specific test that occurred on October 4 is significant in that it traveled 4,500 kilometers (about 2,800 mi), according to BBC. While the missile only landed in the Pacific Ocean, its distance traveled would be far enough to reach Guam, a US island, if the missile’s trajectory were different. This distance is now the longest that any North Korean missile has traveled. Additionally, the missile had an altitude of about 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles) (BBC). To put that in perspective, the International Space Station is only 420 kilometers above Earth.

During the test, citizens throughout northern Japan’s cities of Hokkaido and Aomori reportedly woke up to sirens and loudspeakers instructing them to evacuate to buildings or underground. Despite the concerning message and the warning to heed falling debris from overhead, the people were not incited into a state of panic, with one video depicting commuters in Tokyo walking routinely with the addition of loudspeakers blaring in the background. The impact of the test also extended to commuters in that certain train services were suspended while the missile was over the country.

In recent days, tensions have been building as many believe that the increased testing of missiles is a precursor to the testing of nuclear arms by North Korea. Despite the United Nations prohibiting North Korea from testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, events in the past suggest a possible pattern of action, given that in 2017 North Korea conducted a nuclear test only a week after two missile tests flew over Japan. South Korea’s defense minister, Lee Jong-Sup, explained how it is difficult to predict when North Korea would test a nuclear weapon in the future, but said that lawmakers briefed by intelligence officials had proposed that a window could be between the dates of China’s Communist Party Congress later this month and the US midterm elections in November.

While it is fortunate that Japan or any nearby nations haven’t been put into a state of panic because of North Korea’s recent actions, many that are criticizing the nation and its leader, Kim Jong-Un, point to this as a serious consequence of testing arms without giving prior notice to any nearby countries that may misinterpret the use of military equipment. As these were the circumstances between North Korea and Japan during the recent test, the implications of the test seem to be interpreted as a provocation by North Korea. American analyst Ankit Panda told Reuters about the concerning possibility of North Korea’s activity over Japan as an opportunity for scientists to test missiles under circumstances “that are more representative of the conditions they’d endure in real-world use”.

If the test was an attempt at escalation or gaining attention from Pacific nations, it has been successful given that in response, Japan, the United States, and South Korea have all carried out their own military drills. For example, the US and South Korea used warplanes to fire at a mock target on an uninhabited island in the Yellow Sea. Additionally, Japan and the US conducted joint drills with fighter jets over the Sea of Japan. Both of these bodies of water, in which testing has been taking place, are on the west and east of the Korean Peninsula, respectively. 

Along with exercising defense forces in the case of a counter-attack to a possible upcoming North Korean strike, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida characterized the test as ‘violent behavior.’ Furthermore, United States President Biden contacted Kishida through a phone call, in which they both condemned North Korea’s actions and confirmed they would work closely with South Korea to coordinate immediate and long-term responses to the threat posed by North Korea. Additionally, China and Russia, being allied with North Korea, have been criticized for not properly imposing sanctions and emboldening North Korea. However, the Top US diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, warns of US resolve to pursue further sanctions and other costs on Pyongyang.