On Friday, Japan staged its first ever civilian evacuation drill for the contingency of a North Korean ballistic missile strike. The exercise comes after Japan strongly condemned North Korea’s latest launch of four ER-Scud ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, three of which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Last year, for the first time ever, a North Korea Nodong launch splashed down within Japan’s EEZ as well.
The drill on Friday began with loudspeaker broadcasts and siren warnings signaling a ballistic missile launch. The Japanese government is using its nationwide J-Alert civilian warning system, which is also deployed in case of natural disasters — a common occurrence in the earthquake-prone country — to warn civilians of an incoming North Korean attack.
According to Reuters, Japanese authorities issued warnings of a simulated attack over loudspeaker. “The missile is seen to have landed within a 20 kilometer boundary west of the Oga peninsula,” the alert system noted over loudspeaker. “The government is currently examining the damage.”
Analysis of the latest North Korean ER-Scud salvo launch suggests that Pyongyang is not testing its missile technology, but training for a potential wartime first strike against U.S. assets in Japan. Jeffrey Lewis, writing in Foreign Policy, noted a map published by North Korea after the test showed “all four missiles landing on an arc that stretched down to the Marine Corps Air Station near Iwakuni, Japan.”
Japan has been anticipating the prospect of a North Korea first-strike for some time now. It decided to hold civilian evacuation drills in January this year, as I discussed in The Diplomat. Among other defensive moves, Tokyo has considered an open-ended ballistic missile intercept order for its armed forces. Japan additionally continues to share intelligence with the United States and South Korea about North Korean ballistic missile launches and coordinates trilaterally on missile defense exercises.
In 2016, North Korea staged 24 ballistic missile tests and two underground explosions of nuclear devices. This unprecedented level of activity has sharply driven threat perceptions in Japan in the past year. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the threat from North Korea is “intolerable” and “outrageous,” calling on North Korea to comply with existing UN Security Council sanctions and cease its weapons program.