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Tokyo Prepares Long-Range Missile Test to Counter North Korean Missile Test

By Jason Strother
03 March 2009

North Korea is believed to be preparing to test-fire a long-range missile, and Japanese media reports Tokyo is preparing to counter the possible rocket launch.

The Kyodo News Agency, citing sources from the Japanese Ministry of Defense, reports Japan will dispatch two Aegis equipped destroyers into the Sea of Japan that could potentially shoot-down missiles launched by North Korea.

Japan's government has not confirmed this report.

For the past few weeks, Japanese, South Korean and American intelligence agencies have been closely watching activity at a rocket launch pad on North Korea's east coast.

Pyongyang says it is preparing to send a communications satellite into orbit.

But Tokyo says any type of rocket launch is a violation of U.N. resolutions.

All of Japan and parts of the U.S. west coast are in range of North Korea's long-distance missiles.

But analysts doubt North Korea would actually strike Japan.

Robert Dujaric is the Director of the Institute of Contemporary Japanese Studies at Temple University in Tokyo.

"Japan really has no reason to be particularly worried. I think North Korea knows perfectly well the logic of deterrents," said Dujaric. "That is an act of war against Japan would be considered by the United States an attack on the United States, and would bring about the destruction of North Korea."

But that has not stopped North Korea before from raising tensions.

In 1998, Pyongyang tested its first long-range missile, which soared directly above Japan's main island. They tried again in 2006, but that rocket plunged into the ocean not long after take off.

Analysts say they are not sure if North Korea has developed the technology to mount a long-range missile with nuclear material.

In hopes of deterring a new missile test, Japan could threaten North Korea with economic retaliation, but Temple University's Dujaric says that Japan does not have many options.

"Economic sanctions are difficult because Japan already has sanctions against North Korea and there is very little North Korea - Japan commerce," said Dujaric. "And using the international community has limits, China does not want North Korea to behave that way but there are limits to the extent of China's willingness to coerce North Korea into a different sort of behavior."

Dujaric adds that even if Beijing puts pressure on Pyongyang, there is no guarantee the North Koreans would listen.

Tokyo officials are quoted as saying that any defensive measures taken to safeguard against a North Korean missile launch will be coordinated with the United States, which has nearly 50,000 solders stationed in Japan.

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