In response to US-South Korean military drills, which it believes are preparations for an invasion of North Korea, North Korea has steadfastly maintained that its recent weapons testing activities are legitimate military counteractions. On the other hand, Washington and Seoul insist that their exercises are defensive.
North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile toward its East waters on Thursday, hours after it threatened to take ‘more severe’ military action against the United States to ensure the security of its East Asian allies South Korea and Japan.
At 10:48 a.m. (9:48 p.m. ET), a missile was fired from the Wonsan area of North Korea’s eastern coast, landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to its neighbors. South Korean, American, and Japanese militaries quickly condemned the launch, which they say jeopardizes regional stability after detecting it.
North Korea’s recent string of tests has included ballistic missile firings. Pyongyang has repeatedly said that some tests were simulations of nuclear attacks on South Korean and American targets. North Korea’s nuclear program is one of the most significant issues in East Asia, and many experts believe it will eventually seek to improve its nuclear capabilities to gain greater concessions from its rivals.
North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said earlier today that the recent US-South Korea-Japan summit agreement on Pyongyang would make tensions on the Korean Peninsula “more unpredictable.”
Choe’s statement was North Korea’s first official reaction to US President Joe Biden’s trilateral summit with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Phnom Penh.
In their joint statement, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and US Vice President Joe Biden condemned North Korea’s recent missile tests and agreed to work together to enhance deterrence. Biden also assured Seoul and Tokyo that the United States would defend them with its resources, including its nuclear arms.
Choe said that the more intense the US military activities on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, the fiercer North Korea’s military counteractions would be directly proportional to them. He said this would pose a more serious, realistic, and inevitable threat to the US and its client states.
North Korea’s announcement that it has successfully tested a long-range rocket has raised concerns that Pyongyang may be preparing to test a missile that could one day carry a nuclear warhead. Mr. Choe declined to say what steps North Korea might take but warned, “the US will certainly regret taking such a big gamble.”
The Defense Ministry of South Korea said later on Thursday that joint efforts to curb and deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs were the goal of the trilateral summit. Spokesman Moon Hong Sik said that Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo’s security collaboration bolstered US extended deterrence to its allies.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, South Korea, said the North Korean missile dropped on Thursday traveled about 150 miles and reached a maximum height of 29 miles. The missile launch, it said, was a “grave provocation that jeopardized peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.” According to BBC, this range could potentially hit the US mainland.
“Even if the North does successfully launch the Hwasong-17, the threat will not have significantly increased”, said Yang Uk, a military expert from the Asan Institute. “It must prove it has mastered the technology to be able to mount enough small nuclear warheads onto the ICBM,” he said.
Japan’s Defense Ministry complained that North Korea’s repeated missile launches jeopardized the peace and safety of Japan, the region, and the international community. In addition, the US Pacific Command denounced North Korea’s “illegitimate weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs as a result of yesterday’s launch.
Seoul and Washington’s armed forces staged missile defense drills earlier in the day to review a combined preparedness for North Korean provocations, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said. However, South Korean military officials could not provide additional information on the exercises, including whether they were previously scheduled or set up after detecting signs of an impending North Korean missile launch.
North Korea has consistently asserted that its recent weapons testing activities are legitimate military counteractions to US-South Korean military drills, which it believes are attempts to invade North Korea. However, Washington and Seoul have asserted that their exercises are defensive in nature.