With the world focused on Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un managed to insert himself back into the news cycle Tuesday with the test of a new ballistic missile — with the capacity to carry a nuclear weapon — that streaked over Japan before plunging into the Pacific Ocean about 2,800 miles away.
It was the first North Korean missile launch over Japan since 2017 and prompted immediate military drills from Japan, South Korea and the United States.
U.S. Marine Corps jet fighters and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force conducted a bilateral exercise over the East Sea/Sea of Japan. The South Korean air force and the U.S. Air Force staged their own aerial maneuvers. A South Korean F-15K dropped a pair of Joint Direct Attack Munition precision bombs at a firing range on the uninhabited island of Jikdo, off the country’s western coast.
President Biden spoke by phone with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He pledged to coordinate with Mr. Kishida on an “immediate and longer-term” response to North Korea’s launch over Japan and called Pyongyang’s latest test a “clear violation” of international sanctions, the White House said in a readout of the call.
“The leaders jointly condemned [North Korea’s] missile test in the strongest terms, recognizing the launch as a danger to the Japanese people, destabilizing to the region, and a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” the White House statement said.
South Korean officials said the latest North Korean launch was the 23rd ballistic or cruise missile test by Pyongyang this year alone and the fifth round of weapons tests by the Kim regime in the past 10 days. The North was apparently reacting to a pair of joint drills involving South Korea, U.S. and Japanese forces last month that Pyongyang insisted were covert preparations for an invasion.
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“This reckless nuclear provocation will end up facing grave consequences from our military, allied forces and the international community,” South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol told reporters in Seoul.
The United States, Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, The Associated Press reported. Diplomats said the meeting is likely to be held Wednesday.
The Pentagon said it was still assessing North Korea’s missile launch and didn’t have specific details to release about it, such as the type of missile, point of impact and range. North Korea has given indications that it is preparing a site for what would be its seventh nuclear arms test, Pentagon officials said.
“If they do such a test, from our perspective, it would clearly constitute a grave escalatory action that seriously threatens regional and international security and stability,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon.
The military operations after the missile launch were meant to demonstrate the ability of the U.S. to operate in close coordination with allies in the Indo-Pacific region, such as Japan and South Korea, Pentagon officials said.
“The ability to fly and fight together is not something that you can just wake up in the morning and do,” Gen. Ryder said.
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The exercises send a direct message to North Korea’s leadership that the U.S. and its regional allies are prepared and able to fight together if necessary, U.S. officials said.
“Our militaries can work together across multiple, different types of platforms, capabilities and environments,” Gen. Ryder said. “The ability to conduct precision strikes — to be able to strike a target that you want to strike when you want to strike it — is a distinct advantage on the battlefield.”
According to South Korean and U.S. trackers, the North Korean missile flew some 2,800 miles, reached a maximum height of 602 miles and traveled at a speed of Mach 17. South Korean analysts said the missile was likely a Hwasong-12 IRBM, similar to one that Pyongyang tested in January, The Korea Times newspaper reported. North Korea also flight-tested Hwasong-12 missiles in the days before the 2017 nuclear test that sent tensions soaring with the Trump administration.
The course of the missile test over Japanese territory was a clear escalation by Pyongyang.
The Associated Press reported that Japanese authorities alerted residents in northeastern regions to evacuate to shelters, in the first “J-alert” since 2017. Train service was suspended in the Hokkaido and Aomori regions, and subways in Sapporo city were shut down in the middle of the morning commuter rush.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his South Korean counterpart, National Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, about their assessments of the missile launch.
“They agreed that it was a serious escalation and a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Pentagon officials said in a statement. “Secretary Austin reiterated that the U.S. commitment to the defense of [South Korea] remains ironclad.”
The missile launch also triggered a flurry of telephone messages between other Biden administration officials and their counterparts in Seoul and Tokyo. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made calls to South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.
They “condemned the launch and its blatant disregard of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and its deeply destabilizing implications for the region,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
North Korea’s ability to threaten the world’s security with ballistic missiles also prompted condemnation from leaders outside the Indo-Pacific region. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the launch “dangerous and destabilizing.”
Pyongyang “must abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile [program] and engage in diplomacy,” Mr. Stoltenberg said in a Twitter message. “NATO stands in solidarity with our Indo-Pacific partners, Japan and South Korea.”
The U.S. has introduced resolutions in the past to sanction North Korea over its nuclear weapons policies, but China’s and Russia’s veto powers in the Security Council have scuttled the harshest measures. Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been at a standstill for several years, prompting North Korea to establish closer bonds with Beijing and Moscow.
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said the quickly organized allied response was “a demonstration of the seriousness with which we view North Korea’s provocations and a clear signal that the United States and Japan are fully committed to defending the stability and security of the region.”
Gen. Ryder referred questions about any discussions between Washington and Pyongyang to the State Department.
“It goes without saying that any constructive, positive communication is welcome,” he said. “Firing missiles is not a good way to do that.”
• Joseph Clark contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.