Japan’s Accidental Missile Alert

Last Tuesday, a message was delivered to phones across Japan, which claimed that their neighbours in North Korea had recently launched a missile that was in-bound for the country. However, the message that was sent out was done so by mistake. The broadcasting corporation Nippon Hoso Kyokai, or NHK, had accidentally sent the message out across the country as a result of an equipment malfunction. This comes just days after a similar incident occurred in Hawaii, when an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency had accidentally activated the emergency missile warning system. Thankfully, five minutes later, the NHK sent out a message to clarify the malfunction and rectify the mistake before an outbreak of panic.

In the wake of the mistake, the NHK released the following statement, claiming “This happened because [the] equipment to send a news flash onto the Internet had been incorrectly operated. We are deeply sorry.” Following the equipment failure by the NHK that lead to the incorrect broadcasting of this message, the issue was addressed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a regular news conference, who assured reporters that “The J-alert system is information of extreme importance in maintaining the security and safety of the people, so we’ve asked that they ensure this does not happen again.”

Two errors such as those in Hawaii and Japan, occurring within such close proximity to one another, is very concerning. Even though both Japan and Hawaii resolved their respective issues, the nature of the alerts combined with the fragile relations the two nations have with North Korea means that mistakes like these must be avoided. If similar malfunctions or human errors occur, it could desensitize the civilian population to these alerts, and make them believe that they are always false alarms. This issue is especially worrisome, as it could prove to be fatal should a missile ever be launched. The systems for alerting civilians to intercontinental missiles, not only in Japan but throughout the world, need to be thoroughly checked to ensure errors like these don’t occur again. Ensuring these systems are not only operational, but are trusted by the people they are designed to protect, is essential.

Japan has more reason then most to ensure that their missile alert system is fully operational. North Korea has threatened attacks with Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) before, and have even attempted to launch them at Japan in the past. The most recent attempt was in late November of last year, which saw North Korea launch an ICBM that traveled for 960 Kilometres and reached an altitude of 4,500 Kilometres. The projectile instead touched down in the Sea of Japan.

Two similar incidents occurring within such a short amount of time of one another means that these systems need to be thoroughly examined, and in some cases re-evaluated. While NHK is to be commended for rectifying the issue so quickly, mistakes like these can set a dangerous precedent if they happen too often. It can lead to a distrust in messages of this nature, which could prove dangerous in the present international climate plagued with uncertainty, especially with the currently existing threat of a missile attack on Japan by North Korea.

Joshua Robinson