This Saturday (1), in his fourth weapons test of the week, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles towards the Sea of Japan, the South Korean Armed Forces said. According to the military, they were dropped from the Sunan area of Pyongyang. Since May, when the new South Korean president, Yoon Suk-yeol, took office, the two Koreas have intensified military exercises that they say are purely defensive in nature.
The day before, Friday (30), South Korea, Japan and the United States carried out submarine maneuvers, shortly after Washington and Seoul held large-scale joint military exercises near the Korean peninsula.
US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the South Korean capital on Thursday (29) and met the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. The trip was intended to reinforce Washington’s commitment to Seoul in the face of Pyongyang.
This year, North Korea carried out a record number of weapons tests, including the launch of several ballistic missiles. The country also passed a law declaring its status as a nuclear-armed nation “irreversible”.
“The missiles traveled approximately 350 km at a height of 30 km,” the Seoul Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. Japan also confirmed the launch, and said the missiles had landed outside the Japanese exclusive economic zone.
Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Toshiro Ino said the missiles “appear to have followed irregular trajectories”. “North Korea carries out missile launches at an unprecedented rate,” he added.
Analysts point out that the irregular trajectory indicates that the missiles are capable of maneuvering in mid-air, which makes them even more difficult to track and intercept.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said, also in a statement, that the latest launch “evidences the destabilizing impact of North Korea’s WMD and ballistic missile programs”.
The firing of several missiles by North Korea coincided with Harris’ visit: short-range ballistic missiles were launched on Sunday (25), Wednesday (28) and Thursday (29), some of them just a few hours after Vice -American president ends his trip to South Korea.
The United States maintains 28,500 troops in South Korea to help protect against the North.
Prior to Harris’ visit to Seoul, Washington deployed the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to South Korea to participate in a large-scale naval exercise, which angered Pyongyang, which sees the maneuvers as a test for a future invasion.
“North Korean short-range ballistic missile tests are less important than a nuclear test, but they also violate UN Security Council resolutions,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
He says North Korea is taking advantage of the global divide over the US-China rivalry, as well as Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory, to rapidly modernize its weapons. “Pyongyang’s actions clearly show the need for Washington and Seoul to strengthen military deterrence, tighten economic sanctions and increase political coordination with Tokyo,” he said.
South Korean and US officials warn of a possible new nuclear test, which is being prepared by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In isolation, the North Korean regime has carried out six nuclear tests since 2006, the most recent in 2017.
Another warning was issued on Saturday by the South Korean president of the serious consequences of the North’s use of nuclear weapons against his country. “If North Korea tries to use nuclear weapons, it will face a determined and overwhelming response from our armed forces and the alliance with the United States,” he declared.