North Korea's plan for a third attempt to propel a satellite into orbit is prompting a military alert in Japan. Authorities there and in other countries say the blast-off, expected by mid-April, would violate U.N. resolutions banning North Korea from utilizing ballistic missile technology.
It is perhaps the highest state of readiness for Japan's military since World War II. The country has deployed naval ships equipped with interceptor missiles and set up missile defenses on offshore islands and even in central Tokyo.
U.S. forces in Japan are on a similar state of alert.
On remote Ishigaki island, some residents say the preparations make them nervous.
“I can't believe what a big deal is being made about this missile launch,” said one resident.
It is not an over-reaction, said spokesman Noriyuki Shikata, the deputy cabinet secretary for public relations, at the Japanese prime minister's office.
“The possibility of the launching of ballistic missiles from North Korea is indeed a direct threat for the security of Japan. And it is natural for us to be prepared in close collaboration, especially, with the U.S. military,” said Shikata.
"Preparations by Japan and South Korea to try to intercept the missile if it deviates from its course and flies over their territories have prompted a new threat from Pyongyang. It says any such action would mean war and it would immediately retaliate with military strikes."
“Whoever intercepts our satellite or collects its debris will meet immediate, resolute and merciless punishment,” said a TV announcer for North Korean state TV.
If the North Korean missile is spotted on a trajectory for Japan, the country will activate the “J-Alert” emergency message system, to immediately inform the public. Shikata said Japan will be prepared for whatever happens.
“Our point is we stay calm. But, at the same time, we remain vigilant against different contingencies,” said Shikata.
Lawmaker Ichiro Aisawa chairs the opposition's foreign affairs committee in parliament.
“If Japan finds itself targeted by a missile attack, that would be an act of aggression and we would have no other choice but to be drawn into the start of a war. But we need to try to keep a cool head and make the right decisions,” said Aisawa.
If the launch proceeds, Japanese officials say they will push for additional U.N. sanctions against North Korea and its new, young leader Kim Jong Un.