Japan and South Korea yesterday condemned Pyongyang for its latest missile test, with Seoul saying that its provocations will lead only to more sanctions that will hasten the demise of the regime.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the launch was a flagrant provocation in clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Japan, already on its high- est military alert, vowed to work even more closely with the United States and South Korea to "protect people's lives and well-being".
But this security triangle might be upended as South Korea goes to the polls on May 9. Front runner Moon Jae In opposes a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo, and the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) anti-missile system that has incurred China's wrath.
Pyongyang has taken steps towards developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can hit the United States, despite six sets of UN sanctions.
Yesterday's rocket, the Pukguksong-2, was first tested in February. It uses solid fuel that drastically reduces the time needed to prepare for launch, and is a land-based version of a ballistic missile fired from a submarine platform last August.
Experts estimate there are 70 Soviet-era submarines in the arsenal of North Korea.
The salvo of medium- and intermediate-range missiles is seen as part of a broader ICBM programme, as they could form separate parts in a three-stage longer-range rocket.
Yesterday's launch puts wind in Japan's sails as it mulls over the acquiring of offensive weapons in the name of defence.
Former defence ministers Gen Nakatani and Itsunori Onodera told a news conference that the North's different rocket types meant that it is "capable of more compact and highly capable nuclear missiles".
When you start talking tough, you have to start thinking about what are the realistic alternatives.
FORMER US DEFENCE CHIEF WILLIAM PERRY, talking to The Japan Times.
In response to a question from The Straits Times, Mr Onodera said more pressure should be exerted on Pyongyang, and Mr Trump's statement that the US was prepared to go it alone was "effective as a deterrent because it sends a strong message that all options are on the table".
But former US defence chief William Perry told The Japan Times: "When you start talking tough, you have to start thinking about what are the realistic alternatives." These could include the US urging Japan and South Korea to go nuclear.
"None of them is very attractive," Mr Perry said.
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