Japan Deploys Missile Defense System Ahead of North Korean Launch
Pyongyang plans to launch its Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite April 4-8, a moved that has stoked already heightened tensions in the region. The U.S., Japan and South Korea suspect the North will use the launch to test the delivery technology for a long-range missile capable of striking Alaska.
Japan has said that it will shoot down any dangerous objects that fall its way if the launch doesn't go off successfully. Tokyo, however, has been careful to say that it will not intervene unless its territory is in danger.
The North said earlier this month that any attack on the satellite would be an act of war.
As Japan's military got its orders Friday, North Korea's preparations appeared to be moving ahead quickly.
North Korea mounted a rocket on a launch pad on its northeast coast, American intelligence officials say, putting Pyongyang well on track for the launch.
North Korea is now "technically" capable of launching it in three to four days, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing an unnamed diplomatic official.
The U.S. and South Korea warned Thursday it would be a major provocation with serious consequences, and Japan's parliament was expected to issue a resolution next week demanding the launch be scrapped.
Regional powers have said any launch is banned under a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution and would trigger sanctions.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that such a "provocative act" could jeopardize the stalled talks on supplying North Korea with aid and other concessions in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program.
Of all the North's neighbors, Japan has reacted the most strongly because the satellite will fly over its airspace and North Korea has designated a zone near Japan's northern coast where debris is likely to fall. North Korea sent a similar rocket over Japan in 1998, prompting Japan to build up its missile defenses.
On Friday, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters he ordered the deployment of land-to-air and sea-to-air missile interceptors to the area at risk.
"We will make sure to eliminate anything that may cause us any damage," he said.
Under Friday's order, the Japanese military is allowed to shoot down any missile fragments and debris heading toward Japanese territory.
The military will move some PAC-3 land-to-air missiles, currently deployed around Tokyo, to Japan's northern coast, and deploy a pair of destroyers carrying SM-3 sea-to-air missiles in nearby waters, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
A set of the PAC-3 missiles would be also brought into central Tokyo to defend the nation's capital. The destroyers, equipped with Aegis radar, will sail from their southern homeport of Sasebo.
Japan's National Security Council approved Hamada's order to mobilize the missile interceptors.
Officials stressed that the measures were purely precautionary and said the likelihood of any debris hitting Japan was extremely low.
"We would like everyone to continue your daily life and business as usual," Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said.
Some analysts said Japan -- trying to appear strong in the face of the North Korean launch -- is overreacting.
Hajime Izumi, a Shizuoka University professor of international politics, urged the government to be more balanced.
"The deployment is unavoidable as long as there is a slight possibility of a failure, but the problem is that it creates an impression that a launch would be a 100 percent failure," Izumi said. "The government should give a more balanced explanation."
Japan is also threatening sanctions.
Japan imposed tight trade sanctions on Pyongyang in 2006 after it tested ballistic missiles in waters dividing the two countries and conducted an atomic test. Japan's current sanctions, which have been extended every six months, are set to expire April 13.