In recent weeks, North Korea has tested missiles and weapons systems that violate United Nations Security Council sanctions. U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed their importance. Pyongyang has criticized U.S.-South Korea military exercises, and Trump seemed to side with North Korea. Indeed, Trump’s remarks were part of a broad-based challenge to the very rationale of the U.S. alliance with South Korea, a view that Japan, for all its current difficulties with Seoul, finds disturbing and unfounded. Japan, like many other nations, is increasingly confronted by an unnerving question: Does Trump remain committed to U.S. alliances?

North Korea has conducted five rounds of weapons tests since late July. The most recent tests involved two short-range ballistic missiles, which flew about 400 km before landing in the Sea of Japan. They followed tests of multiple rocket launchers. Experts have concluded that the tests demonstrate marked improvements in North Korean capabilities: The use of solid fuel and mobile launchers suggests that Pyongyang has weapons systems that are easier to hide, move and fire. South Korean sources likened the missiles to a Russian missile that is highly maneuverable and better able to evade missile defenses.

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