Arthur Bright
The Christian Science Monitor
March 28, 2009

Japan has authorized its military to shoot down a North Korean missile that is being prepared for launch in the coming weeks, should it endanger Japanese territory.

The Washington Post reports that the Japanese government has ordered two anti-missile destroyers into the Sea of Japan and is moving Patriot missiles to the coast to intercept the North Korean rocket or its debris.

The orders punctuated a week of rising tensions in Northeast Asia, as North Korea moved its rocket to a launchpad and warned the outside world not to interfere or impose sanctions for its planned launch of what it describes as a "communications satellite." The launch is scheduled for sometime between April 4 and 8.

Japan, South Korea, and the United States have repeatedly asked North Korea to cancel the launch, calling it a provocative pretext for the test of a long-range ballistic missile, which may be able to strike Alaska. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the launch could harm talks aimed at helping North Korea with food and fuel in return for abandoning nuclear weapons….

Japan took pains Friday to explain that it was preparing for a possible accident, not for an attack. Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said he issued orders "to prepare for an event in which a North Korean projectile falls onto our country in an accident."

Reuters writes that the North Korean missile is a multi-stage long-range rocket, and that while the rocket’s boosters are expected to crash in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, "a failed launch or accident could result in one of the stages of the rocket, or bits of it, falling on Japan and endangering lives and property." Reuters adds that Japan would have only 10 minutes notice if the missile or its debris were to threaten Japanese territory.

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