President Biden and his South Korean counterpart, President Yoon Suk Yeol, agreed to reignite discussion about restarting and possibly expanding previous joint military exercises between the two countries. While this was happening, North Korea had launched various missiles, including a suspected ICBM, to show their supposed military capabilities. The move from the US and South Korea comes as a direct response to the nuclear threat brewing in North Korea, which has been adamantly showing off its military arsenal for the past months.
In a joint statement, Biden and Yeol wrote that they have agreed to “initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula.”
The announcement reflects a significant shift in the foreign policy positions of both leaders from their predecessors. Former President Donald Trump ordered scrapping the military exercise to cut costs, while former South Korean President Moon Jae-in focused his administration’s efforts on keeping dialogue with the North.
The two former administrations’ attempts appeared to show fruit after a series of successful diplomatic talks. It ended with Kim crossing over to the South for the first time in history and North Korea going on a self-imposed moratorium on its weapons testing.
The event was celebrated as a huge diplomatic success for the region and the Trump administration. However, recent missile launches from the North prove that Kim’s gestures were insincere, and their weapon developments did not stop.
The rift in the Korean Peninsula in the aftermath of the Second World War birthed two drastically different Korean societies. South Korea developed into a prosperous democracy and has become a production hub for high-technology industries. However, in the North, the country is currently suffering from a coronavirus outbreak with its autocratic regime focused on waving its military stick rather than helping the sick people.
Despite its regime’s military escalations, Biden mentioned that the US had offered the North vaccines to help cull rising COVID-19 cases.
“Yes, we’ve offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but China as well,” Biden said at a press conference. “We’re prepared to do that immediately. We’ve gotten no response.”
Biden and Yoon said that their countries were committed to completing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and forming a “rules-based international order” in light of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
New ICBM Launch
North Korea has test-launched another missile off to sea immediately after Biden concluded his trip to Asia. The missiles were suspected to be one intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and two shorter-ranged projectiles.
The launch would be another ICBM launch added to this year’s series of test launches after it broke its self-imposed moratorium last March. The South’s government was quick to verify and condemn the launch.
“North Korea’s sustained provocations can only result in stronger and faster South Korea-U.S. combined deterrence and can only deepen North Korea’s international isolation,” the South Korean government statement said.
“(Our) government is maintaining constant readiness to strongly and effectively respond to any kind of North Korean provocation.”
The South Korean military reported that the suspected ICBM, rumored to be a Hwasong-17 ICBM, flew at a maximum altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers), traveling 223 miles (360 kilometers) east of Pyongyang. The second missile was shortly lost after launch, flying over 12 miles (20 kilometers), while the third flew 472 miles (760 kilometers) with an apogee of 37 miles (60 kilometers).
The Joint Chief of Staff announced in a statement that the US and South Korean militaries had launched their own surface-to-surface missiles as a response to show their own capabilities. They also said that they were able to detect the test launch while the North was making their preparations in advance.
South Korea test-fired their Hyumoo-2 ballistic missiles from Gangneung, Gangwon, while the US fired its MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). More so, the South Korean Air Force also conducted an “elephant walk,” or what is otherwise known as a close-formation taxi on a runway for the South to show that they are always ready to respond to any threat that may come their way.
The Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi condemned these launches and accused North Korea of provoking heightened tensions in East Asia, stating that the missile tests were “absolutely impermissible.” He also noted that Kim should focus on the COVID-19 outbreak in their country as he was “ignoring the people’s suffering.”
This launch marks the 17th round of missile tests for North Korea this year. Officials from the US, Japan, and South Korea predict that a nuclear test is bound to happen soon. Experts say that the launches depict the North’s commitment to its weapons development program despite a rampaging coronavirus outbreak.
“If omicron is raging in the country, it is not the best time for Kim to take domestic political credit for a nuclear test,” a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, Leif-Eric Easley, said. “So declaring victory against COVID, at least in state propaganda, will probably come first. But North Korea is likely to conduct its seventh nuclear test before reengaging in diplomacy.”