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North Korea Missile Appears to Have Flown Over Japan, Abe Says (bloomberg.com)
206 points by schintan on Aug 28, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 191 comments

Does anyone ever wonder if these missiles run their path due to glitches/malfunctions in the code rather than what's instructed by the operator? It's just hard for me to fathom why a country would intentionally fire missiles at other countries, especially when it's a battle they cannot win.

Playing the crazy card is the only thing the NK regime has going for it strategically. Kim Jong Un wants to make sure that the prospect of regime change in NK is as unappealing as possible for the US, China, SK, and anyone else that might want to try. Part of that is demonstrating nuclear and missile capability in ways that seem reckless and dramatic. He wants policy makers to be 100% unsure of what would happen at an NK missile installation if there were a coup or invasion, and he wants them to know that the range of potential outcomes includes some really unpleasant ones.

If you ever get to go to SK, you may notice that the average citizen doesn't really fear NK. Why? Because they have been subjected to this for a long time.

Hell, in the past decade, NK has sent a threat to SK - by fax.

In other words, it's pretty reasonable to believe this is just Un trying to rile people up until someone sends them some more aid. As we haven't sent any, the behavior gets more and more outlandish. Inside the Hermit Kingdom, I'm pretty sure the leaders are well aware of the futility of actual war.

Mr. Un is just doing what his father and grandfather have done. They are basically screaming until mommy buys them some candy.

When writing Korean names, like Chinese and probably others, the last name comes first, and more often than not that holds true when they're written in English, too. So his last name is Kim and his given name is Jong-Un. Separating the two syllables of the given name makes no sense, as in "Mr. Un". Mr. Jong-Un would be more appropriate, but Mr. Kim would be even more appropriate, as in Korean you don't refer to someone as "Mr. GivenName".

In light of this, I've tried to eradicate the term "last name" from my vocabulary. Instead, I use "given name" and "family name".

Yes, I know that's not universal either, but it's close enough that it helps me conceptualize names when I'm writing code that must deal with them :)

Thanks. I will keep that in mind for the future, however. Mr. Kim has a nice ring to it.

Edited because I read your post more carefully.

You are assuming rational actors. Some of them aren't.

Also, know, that as soon as war starts with NK, they will start shelling Seoul with traditional artillery within a few minutes before we could do anything about it. I think Bannon estimated it at 10M deaths within the first 30 minutes with conventional weapons.


Edit: Bannon casualty estimates and link.

“Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”


I have no knowledge of it, but I want to believe that since everyone, even common folk like you and I, are aware of that possibility, the militaries of South Korea and the US must have something in place to mitigate that, some sort of instant-reaction type airforce ready to take off at a second's notice to neutralize such artillery.

edit: I just read the article you linked to. I still want to believe the authors may not quite have all the information. After all, if such a way to neutralize them existed, but North Korea believed their position there untouchable, we wouldn't want to publicize our plan. Far from unprecedented.

A second's notice is impractical - unless there's already a war underway, you'd be lucky to land strikes within a quarter hour. More likely effective would be counter-battery fire directed by radar, which we (and by extension South Korea) probably do as well as anyone in the world.

The most accurate counter-battery fire in the world can't take shells out of the air, though. Sufficiently well drilled and supplied NK gun crews would most likely be able to fire several rounds each before the first return fire arrived. And even if they weren't, at least one salvo would have to go out for the counter-battery radars to lay their guns at all, whereas the cities targeted by NK in this scenario don't move around much, and could be precisely targeted before the first fire mission commenced.

Twenty million in minutes is implausible. Twenty or thirty thousand isn't, and no preemptive option exists; to even hope to have a realistic shot at forestalling significant civilian casualties, we'd not only have to start the war nobody wants, but do it with utmost ferocity, crossing the DMZ like the Wehrmacht heading for the English Channel.

But even that wouldn't work; NK espionage assets would certainly notice the necessary concentration of force - all they'd have to do would be to watch the news stories about World War II-scale transports suddenly heading west across the Pacific from every military port on the US West Coast - and the NK regime, mad though it be, could hardly fail to draw the obvious conclusion and respond accordingly. There's no way in the modern world to achieve the kind of strategic surprise such blitzkrieg requires - not, at least, without pulling off the kind of deception that Tom Clancy wouldn't have dared write into a novel.

Everyone being aware of the dangers of, say, heart disease doesn't miraculously make a cure appear.

And within the game of MAD North Korea is playing against the US and South Korea, I'm pretty sure it would be beneficial for the US to publicise the ability to neutralise the threat against Seoul. Because that threat is what gives NK the safety to continue the development of nuclear weapons and ICBMs.

The only reason not to publicise such capabilities would be the possibility to, in turn, neutralise this "instant-reaction type airforce" (or whatever it may be). And I'm having a hard time coming up with any realistic scenario.

The only thing we could conceivably do is preemptively strike NK's line of artillery that spans across the entire country north of the DMZ. They would have to simultaneously detonate without detection though and I don't know of anything that can do that. Maybe a nuclear strike delivered from boomer subs, but that would still give warning. Of course that would get China involved and that wouldn't be pretty.

Here's some info including maps of their artillery range and capability.


As you say, if we had it, we'd say so. But we don't, and neither does anyone else. Artillery interception isn't as hard a problem as ballistic missile defense, but it's hard enough to still be at the stage of defense contractor proof-of-concept, which is to say, it has yet to progress beyond a rigged demo that still isn't reliable.

While I appreciate the optimistic thoughts, they do have thousands of seemingly well hidden and dispersed artillery pieces. Seems like the only way to prevent an attack would be with complete destruction of the area of North Korea that's within range of Seoul.

Unlikely. The terrain just north of the DMZ is heavily forested hills, with an unknowable but certainly immense amount of heavily fortified artillery installations with underground access. There's no known weapon system short of strategic nukes (which are not an option because Seoul would be in range) that could neutralize that threat before mass civilian casualties had occurred in Seoul. Bannon's estimate of 20 million is perhaps exaggerated, but probably not by that much.

> Bannon's estimate of 20 million is perhaps exaggerated, but probably not by that much.

It is exaggerated by two or three orders of magnitudes from most published estimates.

For that many people to die, the entire population of Seoul ( 10 million ) plus half that of the greater metropolitan area would have to move to the northern regions of the city within range of the North's artillery and the latter would have to be 100% fatal.

Even counting the population of cities between the DMZ and Seoul only adds two million.

One of my buddies described the C-RAM system, which is designed to do this [in small quantities]. Quite a crazy sight to see at night as the rounds explode in clouds eventually. It can provide intelligence back to counter-mortar teams to strike the location of the first strike.


Radar counter-battery fire isn't new. A workable artillery interceptor would be, and it would be a nice thing to have! But the urgent calls for counter-battery fire with which that video ends don't inspire confidence in the system.

The best effectiveness figures I've seen cited for C-RAM range from 60 to 70 percent. Leaving aside that these are Raytheon's figures and thus extremely untrustworthy - and leaving aside, too, that Phalanx guns eat through their magazines in an awful hurry, and require much manual effort and time to reload - that still leaves three or four out of every ten shells hitting whatever they're aimed at. If they're aimed at Seoul, that's not really solving the problem.

Yeah, he said that's why they were yelling in that video to get rounds on target... The c-ram only had a few seconds of fire before 'the tray' had to be reloaded. If he was on hn I'd have him post here, his stories are pretty incredible.

As my mother used to say, "Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first."

Because of the proximity of the two countries, what you hope for is logistically impossible. Traditional artillery can't be intercepted in the way your describing. Unless sabotaged beforehand(which is unlikely since North Korea is an intelligence services black hole), by the time we scramble a response to take out their artillery, the damage is done. Nukes are largely out of the question as well, unless you plan to blanket South Korea and Japan in radioactive fallout.

During the Vietnam war (or the American war, depending on your perspective) the North Vietnamese got very skilled at concealing artillery pieces, even inside caves, and then rolling them out, blasting off a few rounds, and whipping them away again.

I don't think there's currently any kind of instant-reaction force that could deal with the low tech threat of thousands of simple guns all firing simultaneously.

Well, except for nukes.

Artillery shells travel much faster than aircraft.

> I want to believe that since everyone, even common folk like you and I, are aware of that possibility, the militaries of South Korea and the US must have something in place to mitigate that

And NK has counter-counter-measures to those counter-measures. What about the world makes it that our side must win? History is littered - overflowing, really - with the bodies of the good guys.

I've recently read experts saying it would take over a day to eliminate the artillery. It's universally believed by such people, as far as I've read, that the damage to Seoul and its people would catastrophic.

> Also, know, that as soon as war starts with NK, they will start shelling Seoul with traditional artillery within a few minutes before we could do anything about it. I think Bannon estimated it at 20 million deaths within a few hours.

Just to make that clear: This isn't a revelation Bannon had, at least not remotely first. That military solutions to the NK problem would involve tremendous human cost has widely been publicly reported on, often enough with well documented sources. Before the last few weeks the US govt admitted as much.

Oh I understand it wasn't Bannon's original realization. I'm sure the US realized the situation as soon as spy planes saw them putting the artillery in place. He was just the most recent person to describe the situation to the public.

IOW, the last 40+ years.

Oddly enough, I first learned about this fact from a movie, Behind Enemy Lines 2 I believe, or one of the Splinter Cell games...

Some aren't, but I've not seen any leaders of nations that are not mostly rational, considering that crazy looking actions may be their best bet when factoring in game theory against more powerful entities.

Indeed. Some people think North Korea _acts_ being irrational because it is the rational thing to do.


"While North Korea’s nuclear program is defensive, it still makes sense to remind the world about its existence and use what President Richard Nixon once described as “madman strategy,” that is, to appear to one’s opponents to be irrational, volatile, and willing to disregard costs. That’s why North Korean propaganda uses such fiercely colorful language. When North Korean TV promises to “make Seoul into a sea of fire,” or threatens to nuke Canberra, or shows Kim Jong Un in front of a map of the United States with cities marked as targets of nuclear strikes, they are delivering the same message: “we are here, we are volatile, and will stop at nothing if our opponents do something threatening.”"

Madman strategy has a Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madman_theory, which states Machiavelli wroet sometimes it is "a very wise thing to simulate madness"

There's a fine line between mad and truly irrational though. If your opponents truly believe that you are irrational and volatile then their most rational response should be to do anything in their power to neutralise you before you can harm them.

The best thing is to appear like you are somewhat holding it together most of the time, but when pushed - when your temper flips on - that's when the big crazy comes out. That was more how Nixon used to play it.

That's better than just full crazy all the time, which as you say, might draw a more dangerous response from your opponents.

I think relevant game theory is happening within the leader's cabinet, if the leader feels their position is under threat and things are spiraling out of control, one risky option is to create a crisis and use it as an opportunity to cull dissenters and shore up loyalists.

North Korea is absolutely at, or very near, a strategic position wherein attacking better-armed foes is a winning strategy. Consider:

1. NK's economy is in shambles. The regime has almost nothing to lose.

2. NK's regime does not care about human life (as evidenced by abuses against the people of NK). They would have no qualms about killing many many foreign civilians.

3. NK's populace/military would either not know about such an attack, would be convinced by state media that it was a justified attack on a military target, or would not be in a position to do anything about it.

4. Every country which NK has threatened (US, Japan, SK) is in all ways the opposite of the above: economically robust; government/military respecting of human life (of course there is room for debate there); populace respecting of human life and wary of war.

That means that any attack from NK against one of the above countries plays out as follows:

1. NK obliterates a population center. It has now demonstrated a capable threat.

2. NK makes demands (food, money, land, autonomy, whatever).

3. Victim country (say Japan) can either retaliate with precision strikes, retaliate in kind, retaliate with massive force, do nothing, or give in to demands.

3.a. Retaliating with precision strikes takes too long. NK launches another devastating attack. It is clearly not an option for the victim to lose another population center.

3.b. Retaliating in kind would be unacceptable to the government and populace of the victim country and the world at large. And if it were, it would not be worth the chance of a second attack from NK.

3.c. Retaliating with massive force (the "Trump" option) is absolutely not an option. Like the previous response, it would be completely unacceptable to the rest of the world, but most importantly, you would now be in a war with China who has to contend with a flood of refugees from a destroyed country.

3.d. Do nothing. Another city gets destroyed. NK is desperate, and there are lots of cities it can blow up until it gets its way.

3.e. Give in to demands. This is the only outcome that is all-around tenable. NK is happy, and further massive loss of human life is prevented.

NK is in an even better position if they can win their demands by merely demonstrating capability of destroying – or accidentally destroying – a city (e.g. by launching missiles over Japan), because they can repeat that trick more frequently than by actually destroying a city.

I've wondered if the best strategy might be to flood them with material goods. Just an absolute torrent of everything they could want.

Or maybe do insane things like put really nice billion dollar ships offshore and blow them up once a month.

Somehow demonstrate the asymmetry to a larger portion of the population.

I think this is quite an interesting idea, although there are probably endless reasons why it couldn't work in practice.

It reminds me of the advice to start arguing with others in your group if you're mugged, or to start singing, or anything similarly absurd.

and then they tell their population that you're giving them the material goods because they defeated you in a war, and that they blew up that ship.

Not one ship, dozens of them, month after month after month.

But that was mostly a silly suggestion, the idea is to try to think of a way to make the idea that things are better elsewhere more available to the broader population. No idea if it is possible, but I think trying to do that might be more humane than ever harsher economic sanctions.

You don't understand how it works. Every time the US homeland has been attacked the government has responded with overwhelming violence. The same principle applies regardless of who happens to be president at the time. Regardless of the consequences we can't appear weak.

But this time not only is the country already on the tip of its own disasters, it's RIGHT next door to a bunch of our allies. It's not in "the middle of nowhere" like Afghanistan.

Either way if North Korea or to do something nuclear we've never answered the question of how we respond to that other than mutually assured distraction. However I don't think we can do that without causing serious problems to South Korea, China, and probably Japan. That policy was really designed for Russia, not something like NK.

We thought messing with Afghanistan and Iraq repaired, how in the world do you try and unwind something like North Korea?

None of those other factors have any weight on the decision making process. If North Korea attacks the US homeland or military with a nuke then the US will hit back with multiple nuclear counterattacks and to hell with the consequences. Appearing weak in the face of blatant aggression would mean the end of the US as a superpower so the leadership will never allow that to happen even if it seems like the rational choice.

Homeland yes. I'm assuming they would attack somewhere in East Asia, almost certainly Japan or South Korea.

> Retaliating with precision strikes takes too long.

The US has airbases in the area. Precision strikes won't take nearly as long as you think.

> Retaliating with massive force (the "Trump" option) is absolutely not an option. Like the previous response, it would be completely unacceptable to the rest of the world

I don't think this is true. See the US in the middle east.

> you would now be in a war with China who has to contend with a flood of refugees from a destroyed country.

China has stated that if NK launches the first strike, it will stay neutral, so no war with China. South Korea has planned for reunification for a very long time and has an enormous fund to help deal with it so though the flood of refugees is a serious problem, it's not unresolvable.

I believe there are two mistakes in your thinking:

1. Is wrong because the decisions aren't made by the average North Korean, but by the leadership, which is living quite a comfortable life. At least more comfortable than death, or a war crimes tribunal.

3. The international community would absolutely tolerate proportional retaliation. For a nuclear attack (the only option North Korea would have against anything but Seoul), it is widely assumed that the US would retaliate with nuclear weapons. Even if some US president were to stop short of nuclear retaliation, there is no possibility of NK leadership surviving an attack.

The game theory mechanics aren't really that complicated. It's mostly the same as the cold war's Mutually Assured Destruction. Except the cold war scenarios always had the wrinkle of "if our enemy has already destroyed our country, and killed almost everybody–what is the purpose of retaliating against their population (which, by and large, would be just as innocent as ours)". NK doesn't have the ability to create destruction on such a level. Therefore, there would still be a United States (and many other countries) to protect. And such protection would be achieved by denying NK the ability to strike again, and by setting a precedent to discourage such actions by others.

I think the question is, can we retaliate against only the regime (i.e. without massive civilian population loss) before they take out Seoul? I'm mostly basing my analysis on the ability for NK to cause more damage in the time it takes for SK/Japan/US to mount a "humane" response. Of course, if there is a way, in response to an attack from NK, to take out their ability to do further damage, that is the best option.

If Seoul is their first attack, it's game over for NK. But if it's Japan or the US, they still have that ace up their sleeve unless we're prepared to destroy a LOT of NK VERY quickly.

Even if we can't take out the regime how in the world do we handle that situation? Not only are the people INCREDIBLY needy and the infrastructure a disaster but if they've have the evilness of America drilled into them since they were little children. Even if only a quarter of the population TRULY believes that… how do you handle that?

Where does the staggering amount of money needed to fix the country come from? Or would we (the world) do something like set up a new government keeps living conditions the same and just slowly improve them overtime to prevent some kind of… shock? Just to keep costs under control?

I know people have some plans but if you could just beam all the administration off the planet tomorrow would anyone be prepared for the consequences of that?

It's a population of 24 million, which is comparable to East Germany's population of 16 million at the fall of the wall and reunification.

While the situation in North Korea is certainly more dire, East Germany's economy was also largely incapable of competing and summarily shut down over the next few years, being replaced by new businesses to varying degrees of success.

NK is currently capable to feed itself under normal conditions, and to provide some basic necessities of life. Without a doubt, South Korea would have the means to provide what is missing to get to a basic, yet dignified, quality of life–especially with the certain help of the rest of the world.

I wouldn't worry too much about indoctrination. Look at Germany after WW2 and East Germany after reunification, or Russia after Glasnost, and you'll see that such top-down ideologies have limited staying power once they're no longer enforced. With the sudden availability of sandpaper and toilet paper distinct from each other, it'll be incredibly hard to continue believing in the old myths.

North Koreans probably lack the education to compete in the South's job market, but with an influx of cash, and an economy unshackled, the first years would see a boom in agriculture and construction–industries where North Koreans should be able to participate since they already exist. Some new techniques or materials appearing should increase productivity, but won't be impossible to learn for someone who has experience in those fields.

The structure of North Korea as a police state should actually work to its advantage in the first period, as well as the connections Koreans still feel for their relatives on the other side of the border. I'd be extremely surprised if there were any opposition to new leadership, or any violent or destructive trends.

The real problems will happen after a decade or two, when North Koreans have gotten used to a new standard of living, yet still lack the economic structures the make the South successful. Resentment might grow, in both directions. There'll be "stupid/lazy/obedient North Korean" jokes in the South, and impatience with the continued flow of money required to prop up the flagging economy. Meanwhile, the North will resent the arrogance of the South, start being envious of the success across the former border, and possibly start a long process of making sense of the rapid changes, their identity, and the historical injustice that randomly plunged them into darkness, while others, completely indistinguishable from them, got to enjoy their lives.

Those problems won't be insurmountable, as long as there's some leadership that doesn't budge from the necessity of the process.

I'd like to add that most (all?) of those conditions have been met for years. My presumption is Mr. Kim has run out of money for Scotch. Someone will send him some aid. He will settle down.

Yep. It hasn't gotten to the point that they've had to resort to actually destroying a city yet, or even demonstrating that they can. Just hinting that they might be able to has thus far been enough to keep the aid flowing.

If it wasn't against the law, I'd send him a few cases of Scotch.

By which I mean, I'd chip in to calm him down. I'll buy him a gently used Toyota, tomorrow, if it means he will settle down. I'm not even kidding. I'd even take him at his word. Hell, set up a PayPal account, and make it legal, and I'll send him money every month that he doesn't harass his neighbors. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.

Hmm... We should crowdsource Un's Scotch fund. I'm only partially kidding.

Once you pay the danegeld...

We've already paid.

Only they have, abet in a limited way and the SK and US response was also limited to avoid escalation.

I don't think they are harmless but I also don't think they are suicidal, this just happens to be the only leverage they are willing to use.


They can't. They saber rattle because it means that they are powerful enough to bring people to the negotiating table but they're not actually destructive to other countries (outside tit-for-tat stuff).

The minute they destroy a real city they are game ends and the rest of the world is going to actually do something. They LOSE negotiating power and are inviting in attack against them that will destroy the regeime.

I think that after the loss of a major population center, public sentiment from the rest of the world would be much more accepting of massive retaliation, especially if such retaliation was non-nuclear but still used very large scale conventional arms to effectively destroy NK.

I don't consider 3.e tenable at all. Anyone playing along with that know that they will go down in history as making a worse decision than Chamberlain.

Not only will giving in to demands allow NK to do it again, if they've actually done it once we have to assume they will have done it again or that some other state will because you can get away with it.

In other words: Choosing 3.e means saying "we will allow this to happen again at least once, if not from NK then someone else". Of all the impossible choices with NK, this is the impossiblest. It will cost more lives than the other options.

Is 3.c completely unacceptable to the world? I'm not so sure. "You would now be in a war with China"? No you wouldn't. China would also react to such a thing, and having a "buffer state" is not the same thing as having a sort of ally that is in a hot war of choice with super powers.

Or to put in other words: I Turkey blew up St Petersburg in order to extort Russia, do you think the US would be unconditional allies to Turkey?

After many decades of MAD theory it's on increasingly shaky grounds because we also know that a Russia-US war has environmental impact that just may kill all of humanity even if precision aimed at the enemy.

But this ain't MAD. Destroying a population centre is killing the hostage and asking for another one.

On the "nothing to lose": Of course they do. The leaders are omnipotent beings in their own absolute dictatorship. The proles are not in good shape, but they don't get to decide whom to attack. The deciders have literally everything to lose.

In the book "The Threatening Storm" the former CIA analyst essentially says "Saddam is under the impression that if you have nukes then you can do whatever you want. That ain't how it works, son. Saddam has no understanding of the last 50 years of deterrence theory".

Now, you don't have to agree with me or Pollack, but I think it's fair to say that his interpretation of the theory of deterrence is more likely to be predictive of US kinetic foreign policy actions.

Also the US is used to counting "megadeaths", but since this again isn't MAD, it's not American megadeaths.

I don't know which other option would be best, but I wouldn't visit Soul any time soon.

Edit: This reminds me of the Moscow theatre hostage situation, where they demanded Russian military leave Chechnya. They could have as well asked for the Moon to be plucked from the heavens. If Russia had already been on their way out from their own choice, they almost would have had to go back in just as a precedence-setter. If you let your national security and military options be dictated to you, then you are not a superpower.

You may be interested in the novel Fail Safe, which is about exactly this issue during the cold war. What happens when you've built extremely complex technological failsafes around your nuclear arsenal to prevent error, and suddenly they fail. How do various nations and actors respond. Very solid read.


Right, thanks for the push. Going to watch the movie now.

FYI: Both the film Fail-Safe and 'Dr Strangelove' are based on that book.

No, Dr Strangelove was based on "Red Alert".

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Strangelove#Fail_Safe

Ask Hamas. Apparently there's some logic in shooting missiles at civilians to an enemy that can and will crush you if provoked too far.

The Untold History of Palestine & Israel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUZaR3op1qw

I don't really understand what's still so untold about that story. It's on all mainstream news channels? I think kids learn it at school in most Western European countries. Hamas is a great ally for the colonists on the West Bank, it makes Palestinians look like shit over and over again.

I actually had the same thought. What if North Korea had a mishap and wasn't intending to cause an incident (or at least, not one quite this extreme)? Would they feel like they could admit it was an accident, or would they play it off as intentional even if it wasn't?

Maybe it does not in fact matter what they say.

Given that at least one nuclear strike was closely averted because of better information being available later during a misclassification of a launch of research rocket1], I think it definitely can matter.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_close_calls#19...

Sabre rattling?

For context, it should be noted that it's not the first time a NK test missile crosses over into a neighbour's air space, see [1] for recent example, although I'm pretty sure they did the same thing a few year ago.

So basically: nothing new.

[1] http://safeairspace.net/information/north-korea/

While they often violate other countries' air space, this is the first time he has flown a missile OVER a Japanese land mass. This is a major big deal to the Japanese. Source: I'm in Tokyo right now... :/

Well not outright false. The OP said "he", presumably referencing Kim Jong-un. At that time it'd not been him, but Kim Jong-il...

Were you (or citizens in general) actually able to see the missile crossing the sky?

The missile crossed over Hokkaido, which is the northern large island in the archipelago. I doubt it would have been visible from Tokyo. I don't know whether anyone saw it up there.

> this is the first time he has flown a missile OVER a Japanese land mass.

Predecessor did so before in 1998 (or sometime around that), right?

1998 and 2009. Both times it was claimed it was an attempt to launch a satellite, and the second did end up in orbit, albeit tumbling.

Ah indeed, context is everything, the context is a different US president and different tension levels. Let's just hope that this incident is just another one hey.

Tensions have been as high (possibly higher) before, and the current president is irrelevant (yes I am serious. On foreign/military matters, it's pretty much established he says what the generals tell him to say and that's that. Nobody that matters cares what his latest Twitter tirades are). So the context to get would be: who are the top generals? Answer: same guys as before.

They have been doing this for decades. It is the same spiel every year to show off power to their people. I don't think they care much about the rest of the world.

In Japan, I think that I couldn’t do anything if missile landed. Because J Alert, alerting system that announce emergency for Japannese people, alerted missile fired at 6:02 am and informed passing throgh hokkaido at 6:06 am. We cannot do anything while missile passed through japnese sky.

Sometimes I wonder, how it is to be an engineer working for a crazy dictator.

I would guess you get some special privileges, you are not tied to any regulations but your constrains are budget and supply chain efficiency.

The dictator does not need to explain things to the public, does not need to obey the law so you can have a crazy idea about that machine you want to build and if you can convince one guy, you have it all.

Just imagine your client or employer can shoot you if he's not satisfied with your pace of delivering seemingly impossible and the only thing that might stop him is bother of finding someone else for your spot.

Or get assassinated. Iran's nuclear scientists tended to get blown up, for example and i think most suspect Israel's Mossad.

Which is kinda shitty since a the mid level people who are living quite well but aware of how bad things could be are generally a source of stability and sanity in those kinds of regimes.

If you're an engineer working for a dictator, empowering him with offensive (or defensive) technologies, you absolutely need to expect foreign intelligence agencies' attention, up to and including assassination. This is quite literally those agencies' raison d'être.

Iran's situation is fairly different than NK. NK enrages much more like a madman. Iran on the otherhand isn't starving, the leaders are much more rational, there are actual elections, and their attempt at nuclear weapons are generally defensive, although of course it's neighbors would sleep better if it didn't have nukes because that changes the balance of power in the region.

Us Iran relations are currently caught up because of the US alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia who see Iran as the regional threat, otherwise there would not be such a focus on it. NK on the otherhand is a just a basket case that threatens it's neighbors to get handouts. I feel bad for NK's inhabitants, they are by far the biggest losers in all this.

Iran has officially stated they want Israel obliterated, and then they started building up nukes, so not sure how sane or defensive they are

Be sure to be grounded in reality, and not just rhetoric - all official estimates of Iran's nuclear weapon's program suggest it stopped pursuing it 2003:


To claim otherwise is to grasp to non-credible sources, which frankly is a very popular thing to do in this area.

Yeah, but the skills that country needs are concentrated in a few brains. That's a weak point that's easy to exploit. And deniable. Iran's got no shortage of intellectuals. A couple of nuclear scientists going away won't move the needle.

Also, Iran is not one of "those kinds of regimes". It's one of the better countries to live in in the middle east. Apparently it's a cool place to visit too. US allies like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan etc. are worse.

"I was just following orders", right? Turns out that's not a great defense anywhere in the world.

So we should send guys in to kill them? I mean, I hear your point but I think It could be made equally of all parties.

Only if you assume their actions (building a nuclear weapons program for a theocratic dictatorship like Iran, vs. preventing same from happening) are morally equivalent. I don't think they are.

You mean for the assassin or the scientist

Are you talking about Iran or Mossad?

See above.

I don't know any specific examples, but I wonder how much of our knowledge today came from people working under these conditions. It's terrible, but do we now retain knowledge learned from people experimenting on humans under Hitler, for example? How many warfare techniques were developed by kings or other absolute leaders asking engineers to build novel weapons with no constraints?

Most of those 'experiments' were rubbish from a scientific point of view: they were mostly sadistic torture. Eg the things Mengele did.

Yes, there is certain knowledge we could gain by ethically unconstrained experimenting. But the Nazis did not gain much of that.

On a more positive note, religious preferences sometimes gives us willing subjects. Eg the Jehova's Witnesses don't like blood transfusions but do agree with surgery. So surgeon get to come up and practice blood-transfusion-less procedures. (No ethics committee would let you get away with trying these out otherwise when they are still in the alpha phase.)

Thanks to the Nazis, I know my maximum time to survive in freezing water is about eight minutes. That can't be the only example.

That's really not correct.


Interesting find!

I also did some recreational ice swimming (and read much more about other maniacs who do it regularly): so I can totally see how hypothermia does not kick in as quickly as people think it would.

When I got my scuba certification, my instructor told me very clearly how the data for the recommended decompression curves got collected.

The accuracy of those studies has been questioned and the ethics of using that data, independent of their accuracy, debated, extensively.

Yes we did. A lot of textbooks on human anatomy are from that time.

There is even an ethical issues section on the wikipedia page. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_human_experimentation

I'm not sure that you've provided evidence for the extraordinary claim that textbooks on human anatomy are based on Nazi experiments.

True. I was grossly exaggerating.

I was thinking of Pernkopf's anatomy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduard_Pernkopf) when i was making the comment. It is not true to say textbooks are based on his work.

But apparently his work is used in books. The argument is that it we use results and data from nazi experiments.

During the Manhattan Project some were motivated by solving a technological frontier and didnt really think about the consequences.

I doubt that's true. The entire point of the Manhattan Project was to create an atomic bomb before the Germans could make one. Everyone involved knew they were creating a weapon capable of an unprecedented level of destruction.

Some certainly acted with the motivation of stopping Nazis, or at least had considerations other than pure science. Notably Oppenheimer, who was quoted thus after witnessing the first nuclear explosion: "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

But others, best exemplified by Edward Teller, didn't concern themselves with such liberal arts nonsense, and merrily continued building larger and larger (and–actually more dangerous–smaller) bombs after Germany was long defeated, and before the Cold War's weapon's race had begun.

And, of course, the Trinity test mentioned above only happened three months after Germany's capitulation. Since afaik none of the scientists quit and the Manhattan project continued unabated, the idea that it was solely motivated by the fear of a German bomb seems somewhat...strained.

There were a tonne of people involved in the Manhattan project that weren't working on the bomb itself. The uranium enrichment was a huge project by itself.

>Sometimes I wonder, how it is to be an engineer to work for a crazy dictator.

Luckily we know the answer already:


I saw a great documentary on that topic called "Space Race" which showed the difference between the US and Soviet space program.

OMG i think u just invented a world class Movie/script. >> please someone start writing it.

So I'm a little confused, what's all this talk about anti-missile systems? Are they even real or just seriously over-stated? If you look at where Hokkaido is I feel it's hard to believe that some protection system wouldn't activate when the missile lands on the eastern side if the island.

Thinking more about it, perhaps it makes sense. If they know it's going to miss the area, why blow it up and give away information about your defence systems. I bet that is a risky and nail biting call to make...

Anti-missile defense systems on the ballistic scale are pretty much a 50/50 proposition. There's signs they may have been testing multiple re-entry vehicles as well, which makes it even more difficult.

But just because anti-missile systems weren't used here doesn't mean they don't exist. US/Japan could have decided the missile was probably headed for the Pacific and decided not to intercept. The location and capability of US anti-missile batteries would be strategically useful information for NK, so better to keep them quiet if you don't have to use them.

It depends very much on the type and speed of missile you're intercepting. For short-range rockets, the technology is pretty solid (Israel's Iron Dome has an excellent track record). For battlefield weapons and cruise missiles, it's OK (the effectiveness of the Patriot anti-missile system is hotly debated, but it seems to have a success rate of "more than 10% and less than 80%"). For things like ICBMs, we're really not even close.

The thing is, NK has one of the largest military in the world and can fire 200,000 or so rounds of mortars, tanks, rockets whatever to Seoul within 5 mins. A missile system can maybe defend 10,000 during that time? Just a back of the envelope calculation.

The anti-missile system being talked about recently is in South Korea, not Japan.

No, Japan is supposed to have some too.

Wonder why the did intercept, that has to have been a lively debate

It landed "Off the eastern coast of Hokkaido", which is a pretty ambiguous location. It might not have been very close to land, or on a trajectory that was particularly threatening.

NHK reports it landed about 1200km straight east of Hokkaido in the sea.

So, is Missile Defense vaporware? How come these systems are always part of the conversation until there are real missiles to stop? Am I just missing all of the successful takedowns?

The Patriot Anti-Missile system had plenty of successes and a few failures broadcast on live TV during the first Gulf War.

But I think the idea is to only use them when the launched missile is on a trajectory to hit a target you want to defend. First, it costs money. Second, each time a defensive missile is deployed, there is inherently some information leakage about the defensive capability. So if you're going to make such a disclosure, you want it to count.

Patriots in the Gulf War were pretty good at shooting down incoming Scud missiles - but Scuds are fairly slow short-range missiles, with a range of ~200-700km depending on the version.

This was probably a Hwasong-12, with a range of ~5,000km. It would be a much more difficult target to hit, especially at maximum altitude or on terminal approach (where it would be traveling very fast indeed).

Patriots have gotten much better since the first Gulf War and we have other systems designed to shoot down ballistic missiles, but it's still a very hard problem that we've not completely solved. It seems likely that the reason we've not shot down a North Korean test missile is that there is a high enough possibility of failure that it wouldn't be worth the risk.

I'm sure there is great optimization possible from 80's tech, which out of computational necessity, communicated by satellite to mainframes at NORAD. And if you think about it, a defensive missile doesn't have to outrun an offensive one. It just needs to be in the right place at the right time. It doesn't have to have pinpoint accuracy either; errors can be corrected by sizing and/or clustering the defensive payload.

Ballistic missile defense works to an extent but isn't reliable. You have to have an interceptor positioned in the right place and coverage is currently very sparse. The detection time window is very short. And even under ideal circumstances the interceptors often miss; it may take several shots to reliably hit a single missile.

I thought missile defense was well-known vapor-ware.

It seems like the Kim regime is backed into a corner where only the capability to launch nuclear weapons will ensure that they aren't wiped off the face of the planet.

It's easy to mock the DPRK, but its actions are perfectly rational. The leadership has realised that nukes are necessary to remain in power.

That seems to be canonically false, however, due to the fact that they had the metaphorical "gun to S. Korea's Head" long before they had nukes, and despite bragging for years about their intentions the international community was still very limited in their actions.

Nukes seem peripheral to the core capability of just being able to do enough damage before you can be stopped that anyone is afraid to engage you. (to provide an example; if you watch the news running up to the iraq invasion, many outlets were _very convinced_ we'd see WMD used against us, but that didn't seem to be the primary or even tangential cause for hesitation at the time.)

It's not just about how much damage you can cause, it's about who you can cause it to. At some point, if the only damage N.K. can do is to S.K., a third party might choose to take action against N.K. before they have the capability to hurt that third party.

Put in real terms, if the U.S. strongly believed that N.K. would be able to deliver a nuclear warhead to the pacific northwest accurately in the next year, a preemptive strike by the U.S. that causes massive casualties in S.K. in retaliation might go from unthinkable to "a hard decision that needs careful thought." to those in power in the U.S.

No, they could nuke China. Even if they don't they could send hundreds of thousands or millions of refugees poring over the border.

There is a reason China plays ball with them.

I'm confused what this has to do with what I wrote? I'm not sure I'm interpreting it correctly, as I can't seem to see how it applies to my own point. I was addressing "That seems to be canonically false, however, due to the fact that they had the metaphorical "gun to S. Korea's Head" long before they had nukes".

I'm just noting that "ability to cause a lot of damage to ally" and "ability to cause a lot of damage to you" can have different weights in the decision process.

I see your point. I read your comment as 'worst case they can only attack S. Korea' but re-reading it I clearly missed the point.

> I'm just noting that "ability to cause a lot of damage to ally" and "ability to cause a lot of damage to you" can have different weights in the decision process.

Definitely true. But at this point with so much made in China, Korea, and Japan I'd expect that any big political disruption in East Asia would end up being extremely disruptive to the US even though we wouldn't (in this example) be under attack ourselves.

No, he's right. I remember reading an excellent piece (or listening to a podcast?) about this.

If NK only had basic missles people wouldn't like them, but they're not a huge threat. The fact they have them and keep making threats is what gives them 'power'.

Everyone is so afraid of the results of an attack that we (the rest of the world) is willing to deal with them and help keep their people out of starvation (to the degree they let us), etc.

If provoked with an attack they retaliate, possibly months later, but don't actually make first strikes. If they did that they would be too dangerous, but if they make it clear they may start nuking people if you go mess with them they suddenly get treated better.

It's their only bargaining chip and they've become EXPERTS at using it to get what they want.

So the question would be what event are they retaliating against here? Who attacked them or so they think isn't taking them seriously enough? I don't follow things close enough to know.

The US president is facing tons of trouble. The 4th biggest city in thebUS is under water and may get hit again in a few days.

NK will likely lead the news tonight.

They know what they're doing. It's not the normal game, but they're not crazy. There is a strategy.

North Korean nukes are not meant to dissuade South Korea from going to war. It's meant to dissuade America.

At least that's the commonly accepted view.

At some point, they'll just have to decide which threat is greatest. The internal one that is very real for them or the external one they are making stronger every day.

Or they could spend some of their treasure on feeding their own people instead of pursuing weapons of war.

Anyone looking for a fight will eventually find one.


The problem is that on the path from "our people's lives suck" to "our people have good lives" there is an inevitable step where "our people learn how badly their rulers have screwed them over".

NK leadership doesn't think that they'll survive that step.

Another issue, is that China and Seoul, and by extension the US, would be a lot more willing to step in and probably help with reunification or a regime change with open borders if it didn't also mean a massive financial effort/refugee crisis on the border.

My understanding is that it is all China.

China's two concerns are avoiding a refugee crisis, and not having a US ally directly on such a sensitive border.

Seoul would certainly face hardship, but is currently willing to help. (Plus they would be happy to have solved their fear of immanent invasion.) However allowing Seoul to help would leave a US ally directly on China's border.

However Seoul's support is faltering as memories fade. In public polls, 56% of South Koreans think that supporting reunification as "essential", but support is much stronger among older generations. If the stalemate lasts a couple more generations, the two countries may not want to reunite.

>Plus they would be happy to have solved their fear of immanent invasion.

This may be fixed with the regime change method with open borders.

I'm sure you are correct that the memory will fade and in turn, the desire to help, when there are no longer families that have to meet across the border.

Considering what happened to Iraq, Libya, soon Syria and all the others, yes, nuclear capabilities are among the only things to protect you.

And to think the countries were destroyed for the mere fact that they happened to have 'the wrong system of government'...

You can use an even better example, Ukraine.

The Ukraine gave up their nuclear weaponry, with a promise from the west that we’d protect them.

Only a few years later, Russia is invading the Ukraine right now, and we all don’t do shit.

>with a promise from the west that we’d protect them.

Well actually, with a promise that the USA and Russia would protect them. So it's not quite so clean cut as saying no one came to my aid. When infact, they were attacked by the people who were going to come to their aid.

They could have joined NATO to get the backing of the full NATO Alliance, but they failed to get that done in 20 years because they didn't want to assure human rights for LGBT community which was a huge wedge issue (probably with massive help from Russian astro-turing). NATO will not allow a country to join that is currently involved in a border dispute. So they are in a bit of a pickle, though not one that should have been too hard to see coming.

Only Russia attacked them. What aid has the USA rendered?

This situation has shaken Japan's faith that the USA is willing to honor the agreement with them.

Japan PM needs a strong show of support and response to North Korea from Trump and the US.

Don't most countries (especially the neighbors to those with violent tendencies) have automatic defenses against missiles? If Japan has such a system, did it fail to trigger? I just find it very weird that a missile would be able to pass across a country uninterrupted.

Shooting down a missile with another missile is very difficult, especially if it's an ICBM moving at full speed.

Couple that with the fact that Hokkaido is as far north as you can get in Japan (as far from Tokyo and other major population centers further south, so there may not be missile defense systems there. Israel's Iron Dome only has a range of 70km, so I doubt, even if Japan had better technology, that they'd have one of these set up everywhere across the islands.

Being that Hokkaido is so far north, if you look on a map it's very very close to Russia. Not knowing the exact trajectory that it took, it's plausible that it went over Japanese airspace but was obviously not on a trajectory to impact the island itself. The article doesn't say where it was headed, just that it was in Japanese "airspace", and that it landed off the coast.

So plenty of reasons why it wasn't shot down. I'll add one more: the last thing you want to do is try to shoot down a test rocket and fail. Because if you fail on the test, the enemy will be more willing to believe you'd fail on the real thing, too.

NHK just reported on TV it passed directly over Hokkaido, but landed 1200km straight east of Hokkaido in the sea.

If the missile were on a ballistic trajectory that would not impact anywhere on land, perhaps it's better to let it fly on over into the ocean?

Shooting it down could reveal anti-missile capabilities that may be saved for a more serious impact threat.

This makes total sense. Well, unless the missile makes an unexpected turn :) Are there any past examples of such "tests"? I couldn't figure out how to google it.

Unlike a cruise missile, ballistic missiles are not really capable of turning in that way.

Maybe NK had this exact same question

Even if you have a perfectly effective system you have to deal with the fact that when you shoot a missile down debris is going to fall. If you shoot a nuclear missile down, nuclear debris is going to fall.

Depending on where the missile is projected to land it might be a better idea not to shoot it.

You don't want to unnecessarily expose the capabilities of your countermeasures. So no ABM launch unless absolutely necessary.

Maybe North Korea shorted the market yesterday? Missile over Japan... Market down now. Coincidence? This might be an easier way to get money than asking for aid

> Several missiles were fired by North Korea, NHK cites Japan’s government as saying.

> Missile likely landed off eastern coast of Hokkaido, NHK says.

Thank goodness.

Someone posted this on Twitter: "Alarm from JP Gov. 'A missile was fired from North Korea. Please evacuate to a sturdy building or basement.'"


the danger in this world has always been the day irrational leaders of insular states gain the ability to affect any other nation at will.

the issue seems to be, no one wants to be the one that is preemptive in fear of being blamed for setting the whole thing off.

long term is, how does the world protect itself from such as this? is there any true protection possible at this time. Just as the USSR and the USA had too much to lose during the Cold War the US and China, if not Russia, in the mix, all have too much to lose, but smaller states or failing states are a danger. Pretty sure we can list out states of increasing risk. Can any of them be permanent bought off or that a stupid fantasy?

Can someone explain why it's so hard to build a missile shield around the US? We've been at it for decades and it's still not reliable. Meanwhile, Israel has the Iron Dome. I know we're a lot bigger, but I feel like this should still be possible, yes?

We have one, but intercepting long range missiles is very hard.


There are also lots of political issues around weaponizing space and deploying interceptors where we would need them. The US had to withdraw from a treaty with Russia in order to build the current system: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Ballistic_Missile_Treaty

Last time I checked, Iron Dome was only 90% effective and only had a range of 70km. The area that is constantly lobbing missiles at them is very small and easy to cover with overlapping missile defense systems. It'd be much harder and more expensive to cover Japan, and Japan is super tiny compared to many other countries that are targets for NK missiles (like the US).

It's really hard because of the massive amount of area you need to cover with a system that's basically like shooting a bullet out of the air with another bullet.

The closest we have ever come to having a nuclear strike on US soil was when the soviets were convinced we were about to build such a shield. MAD falls apart when someone builds an effective shield... I don't think we actually want to build such a shield for this reason.

The Qassam rockets that Hamas uses fly at about 200m/s, while these North Korean ones fly at about 800m/s. Additionally, Israel is tiny compared to the United States.

Shouldn't the title be OVER Japan since it is reported to have gone over Japan?

I don't get it. Why would North Korea do something this provocative? Surely they realize that the US president is unstable and would be more than capable of lobbing a missile their way out of anger and/or for ratings?

Because they don't believe he is that stupid. After all they did not harm anyone in this "test". Trump cannot claim retaliation if he or an ally was not attacked.

Trump has said, his own words, that threats are sufficient to provoke retaliation, not merely an attack. Whether this is sincere is still an open question. But is insincerity useful? Because what Kim is successfully doing if there's no response is proving Trump's insincerity. And if an attack is provoked, he's proving Trump's bad judgment. Either way, it's bad for everyone.

I'm surprised it was not shot down. This will probably be the final nail in the coffin for Shinzo Abe.

If you're interested, odds are the next Prime Minister will be Yuriko Koike.

Does the US have a THAAD installation in South Korea? If so, is it possible that the THAAD missiles launched and missed these? If they weren't launched, why not?

The US reportedly knew beforehand about the launch: https://twitter.com/nktpnd/status/902286999855476736

But besides that, THAAD is for the terminal phase, so that'd not really work well for something that landed ~1000km east of Hokkaido.

fwiw a friend of mine worked in this field during the cold war. He told me that the Soviets would routinely test their missiles (as did the US) by test launching a randomly picked rocket from the fleet. The difference was the US always launched from Vendenberg whereas the Soviets would just launch from whatever silo the missile was in. Not so different from this scenario really.

The US and Soviets usually notified each other in advance of ballistic missile tests in order to prevent unpleasant misunderstandings.

Well, when they finally blow a major city to smithereens, let nobody say that it took them by surprise.

Has CNN started the countdown?

Someone is getting bombed to hell...

Statistically unlikely. It may not even make political sense to do so. Send Un some Scotch, wheat, and rice - he will settle down for a nap.

>Statistically unlikely

You forget that the US is run by someone that makes policy 140 characters at a time and is proud to be "the most militaristic person there is".

So while I agree with your Scotch plan being better I still think they're getting bombed to hell.

I'm kinda old. Trump is president, not dictator. He doesn't scare me. He talks a lot, and I don't agree with much if what he says, but he's just a public face to a country that had been running for more than two centuries.

At this moment in time, I see bombing as being unlikely. The Norks leaders have been batshit insane since before I was born, and I was hatched in the 50s.

Pretty much the sole basis for considering DPRKs leaders crazy is the Kim family's ridiculous rants. The rants use weird language, and insincere threats.

And so now the U.S. president is modeling that behavior: Weird language (fire and fury) and it seems designed to be insincere, and just for laughs. It factually hasn't changed the calculus of KJU.

At risk of offending, I don't believe Trump is modeling that behavior. I don't think his rants are ridiculous, meaning that I believe there's a (sane?) reason behind them.

I feel I need to stress that Trump doesn't scare me. I don't believe he is dumb, I believe he is a fan of gamesmanship. I don't think he is insane. I don't think he is going to cause society to collapse. He scares me exactly none.

I also, unfortunately, need to add that I didn't vote for him and don't particularly approve of him. I'm just not even remotely afraid of him.

I suspect you see what you want to see and draw similarities where there aren't any to worry about. For as much as the politicians change, we keep trudging on. Truly, you'll be alright. It's very unlikely that things will change in a meaningful fashion. We are very much on a trend towards better, and have been for millennia.

The U.S. government is in disarray (to understate it) and is in a moment of weakness. I am sure Pyongyang knows this and is testing the waters to see what it can get away with. Will a meaningful, competent retaliation come?

Maybe they went this far because all the previous probings confirmed the weakness. How much further will they go? Who else will come out of the woodwork and start strutting around now that nobody has the will or know-how to stop them?

This hypothesis doesn't really make sense. Why would NK want to see what it can get away with? All they need to do is show to their enemies that they have the capability to cause incredible loss of life and they will achieve their goal of staying in power. They don't actually need to cause actual loss of life to do so. Actually performing a missile strike for example in Japan is not in their own interest because once they step over a certain line it's game over.

[Kim Jong Un] has said things that are horrific. And with me he’s not getting away with it. He got away with it for a long time, between him and his family. He’s not getting away with it. This is a whole new ballgame. He’s not going to be saying those things, and he’s certainly not going to be doing those things. - Trump, barely two weeks ago.

The hypothesis makes a lot of sense, because merely proving Trump's insincerity, and that nothing has actually changed policy wise, has intrinsic value. DPRK did such a missile test in 2009, to much deserved outcry, but there was no escalating response. But this is supposed to be a whole new ballgame.

So is it a new ballgame? Or was that insincere?

Will a meaningful, competent retaliation come?

So please explain what that can possibly be. Economic sanctions against China?

Not a diplomat, so I have no idea. But I'd guess the responses are much more often diplomatic or covert than military.

So how can you evaluate the competency of any response?

(I pretty much see the situation as intractable, short of China getting motivated to eliminate their convenient strategic buffer...)

North Koreans are the build an accurate rocket like the British build a reliable car. They were probably aiming for Seoul.

I don't feel bad making a wisecrack since there isn't a substantive story about this on the handful of news outlets I checked.

> I don't feel bad making a wisecrack since there isn't a substantive story about this on the handful of news outlets I checked.

This story ends with "Developing...", so not having a substantive story might be more a factor of it being a very recent development rather than it being poorly reported or not worth reporting. I'm not sure that's a good metric by which to judge whether it's okay to joke about, at least in the early stages.

>I don't feel bad making a wisecrack since there isn't a substantive story about this on the handful of news outlets I checked.

What does that have to do with anything? And the story was broken by NHK, what other news sources would you need to confirm this?

They crossed airspace. Nowhere do I read that they were aimed at land, or any place with people. This particular source (Bloomberg) is most sensational of them all (comparing to nu.nl, Al Jazera and Reuters), but they all agree that it only crossed airspace and dropped into the ocean.

I remember reports of Russia's fighter jets crossing (I think) Finland's airspace, which were explained as "one nation testing another's response time and alertness, common events even in peacetime". This was back when there were more Russia-related tensions (the Ukraine annexation thing). I wouldn't be surprised if North Korea is doing that with Japan's airspace.

Flagged for (1) picking the least clear source available (can happen by accident) and (2) editing the title from "appears to have passed over" to "appears to have fired towards" (that's definitely sensationalizing it).

Russian aircraft semi-regularly test British air response times.

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