Kim Jong-un has already launched more missiles this year than his father did in his lifetime

Increasingly common.
Increasingly common.
Image: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
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North Korea launched yet another missile today (Aug. 29), this one flying over Japan before landing in the sea. Sending a rocket over mainland Japan is rare for North Korea, but not unprecedented. It did so in 1998 and 2009, for instance, although in each of those instances, unlike this time, it said it was sending satellites into space (paywall).

“North Korea’s early space launches in 1998 and 2009 went over Japan, but that’s not the same thing as firing a missile,” Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies at Monterey, California, told Reuters.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe told reporters this morning, “North Korea’s reckless action is an unprecedented, serious and a grave threat to our nation.”

With the steady stream of launches, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. By way of context, Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s third-generation hereditary leader, has already launched more missiles this year, 18, than his father, Kim Jong-il, did in his lifetime, at 16. (His grandfather, Kim Il-sung, launched 15 in all.) What’s more, by this time last year Kim Jong-un also surpassed his father’s total, and the same goes for 2014.

Last year he launched 24 in all, compared to 15 the year before and 19 in 2014, when the number shot up dramatically from years past.

This year has also been notable for North Korea’s first launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), on July 4, followed by another later in the month that experts deemed could hit much of the US mainland. Those ICBMs did not, however, fly over Japan like today’s missile, instead taking a very high trajectory and landing in the sea to the west of Japan.

Experts have noted a remarkable boost in the quality of North Korea’s missiles of late. But as the numbers show, the quantity has gone up as well.