The threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has entered “a new stage,” the Japanese Defense Ministry warned in a new report released Tuesday.
“It is possible that North Korea has already achieved the miniaturization of nuclear weapons and has acquired nuclear warheads,” Japan’s Defense Ministry said in its annual report.
“Since last year, when it forcibly implemented two nuclear tests and more than 20 ballistic missile launches, the security threats have entered a new stage,” it added in the 563-page document known as the Defense White Paper.
Air raid and evacuation drills have been held in Japan in recent months as North Korea has stepped up its missile testing program.
Kim Jong Un’s regime has carried out a series of missile tests since the beginning of this year, including two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) which landed off the west coast of Japan in early and late July respectively.
Kim announced in March 2016 that North Korea had the capability of miniaturizing a nuclear bomb so it can be placed on a missile.
That claim was dismissed by South Korean officials at the time.
But speaking to reporters Tuesday, Japan’s defense minister, Itsunori Onodera said North Korea’s ballistic missiles had “become a new threat to Japan’s security,” echoing words used by prime minister Shinzo Abe in March.
Onodera was appointed to the job last week and has previously called for changes to Japan’s strictly defensive national security policy.
Earlier this year, he called for Japan to explore the possibility of hitting enemy bases in North Korea if Japan was attacked in order to prevent further strikes.
Any moves to do so would be a departure from Japan’s existing self defense policies which have been in place since the end of World War II and focus solely on defending its territory.
The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted through a new round of sanctions over the weekend in light of North Korea’s latest missile test.
North Korea responded by stating it would never put its nuclear weapons or missiles up for negotiation.
Pyongyang also called the new U.N. sanctions “fabricated” and warned there would be “strong follow-up measures” and acts of justice.
Physicist and co-director of the UCS Global Security Program wrote on the “All Things Nuclear” blog last week that North Korea’s latest missile could “easily reach the U.S. West Coast, and a number of major U.S. cities” including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and New York.
Although air raid drills have been carried out in Japan since March, some have questioned their efficacy given the short time it would take for a North Korean missile to reach Japan.
“About the time when people are told to flee, the missile would have already landed,” governor of Hyogo prefecture, Toshizo Ido, told the Japan Times in May.
Onodera also told reporters Tuesday that “provocative acts” by China in the East China Sea and South China Sea were also of concern as highlighted by the Defense White Paper.