Japan Says North Korea Poses Biggest Threat Since World War II

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends Universal Health Coverage Forum 2017 in Tokyo, Japan December 14, 2017. In his New Year's message, Abe called North Korea the biggest threat to his country since World War II. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a grim assessment of the security environment surrounding his country in his New Year's speech on Thursday.

Vowing to protect his people, Abe compared the threat North Korea's missile test-launches present to his country to World War II, when Japan was defeated along with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy by the Allied Forces after the U.S. dropped two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that the security environment surrounding Japan is at its severest since World War Two. I will protect the people's lives and peaceful living in any situation," Abe said, quoted by Reuters.

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North Korea's missile launches, which often landed in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan or have—on at least two occasions in 2017—flown over Japanese territory before plummeting into the Pacific Ocean, forced Japan to hold its first civilian missile evacuation drill in March.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that North Korea is trampling the strong desire of Japan and the rest of the international community for peaceful resolutions and continuing with its provocative behavior," Abe said in the speech.

North Korea loomed large over Abe's call for snap elections in September, as he took a calculated gamble to strengthen his position and be reconfirmed as prime minister. Celebrating the result at the time, Abe promised to keep Japan safe and "dramatically show countermeasures against the North Korea threat," statements that North Korea took as threatening "a reinvasion of the Korean peninsula," which Japan occupied from 1910 until 1945.

Abe isn't the only voice within the Japanese government voicing concerns about North Korea. Japan's defense minister Itsunori Onodera warned in October that Pyongyang's nuclear and missile program represented an "unprecedented, critical and imminent" threat and proposed to "take calibrated and different responses to meet that level of threat," without elaborating further.

Throughout his time in power, Abe's government has already expanded the role of Japan's self-defense forces (SDF)—the country's post-war constitution prevents it from maintaining formal military forces—to include overseas operations in self-defense and in support of its allies.

Japan's defense ministry also once again increased its budget, reaching a record $46 billion and including a plan to expand the country's ballistic missile defense system with the addition of two Aegis Ashore batteries.