Seoul: South Korea’s military said North Korea fired a suspected long-range missile out to sea from its capital on Saturday, a day after threatening tough measures over joint military drills between South Korea and the United States.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said the ballistic missile was fired at around 5:22 p.m. From an area in Sunan, the site of Pyongyang’s international airport, where the North has conducted most of its intercontinental ballistic missile tests in recent years. The South Korean military did not immediately say where the weapon fell.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Friday threatened with unprecedently strong action against its rivals after South Korea announced a series of planned military exercises with the United States aimed at sharpening their response to the North’s growing threats. Japan’s Deputy Defense Minister Toshiro Ino said the missile was expected to land in waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Oshima Island. Ōshima is located on the west coast of the northernmost main island of Hokkaido.
The office of South Korean President Yun Suk Yeol said that his national security director Kim Sung-han was chairing an emergency security meeting to discuss the launch. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tokyo was communicating closely with Washington and Seoul over the launch, which he described as an act of violence that defies the international order.
The launch was North Korea’s first since Jan. 1, when it test-fired a short-range weapon. It followed a massive military parade in Pyongyang last week, where troops rolled out more than a dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles as leader Kim Jong Un watched in delight from a balcony. The unprecedented number of missiles underscored a continuation of the expansion of his country’s military capabilities despite limited resources while negotiations with Washington remain stalemated.
Those missiles included new system experts say is possibly linked to the North’s stated desire to acquire a solid-fuel ICBM. North Korea’s existing ICBMs, including Hwasong-17s, use liquid propellants that require pre-launch injections and cannot remain fueled for prolonged periods. A solid-fuel alternative would take less time to prepare and is easier to move around on vehicles, providing less opportunity to be spotted. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Saturday’s launch involved a solid-fuel system.
“North Korean missile firings are often tests of technologies under development, and it will be notable if Pyongyang claims progress with a long-range solid-fuel missile,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “The Kim regime may also tout this launch as a response to U.S. defense cooperation with South Korea and sanctions diplomacy at the United Nations.”
North Korea is coming off a record year in weapons demonstrations with more than 70 ballistic missiles fired, including ICBMs with the potential range to reach the U.S. mainland. The North also conducted a slew of launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks against South Korean and U.S. targets in response to the allies’ resumption of a large-scale joint military exercise that had been downsized for years.
North Korea’s missile tests have been punctuated by threats of preemptive nuclear attacks against South Korea or the United States over what it perceives as a broad range of scenarios that put its leadership under threat.
Kim doubled down on his nuclear push entering 2023, calling for an exponential increase in the country’s nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nuclear weapons targeting enemy South Korea, and the development of more advanced ICBMs.
The North Korean statement on Friday accused Washington and Seoul of planning more than 20 rounds of military drills this year, including large-scale field exercises, and described its rivals as the arch-criminals deliberately disrupting regional peace and stability.
The statement came hours after South Korea’s Defense Ministry officials told lawmakers that Seoul and Washington will hold an annual computer-simulated combined training in mid-March. The 11-day training would reflect North Korea’s nuclear threats, as well as unspecified lessons from the Russia-Ukraine war, according to Heo Tae-keun, South Korea’s deputy minister of national defense policy. He said the two countries will also conduct joint field exercises in mid-March that would be bigger than those held in the past few years.
South Korea and the U.S. will also hold a one-day tabletop exercise next week at the Pentagon to sharpen a response to a potential use of nuclear weapons by North Korea. The exercise, scheduled for Wednesday, would set up possible scenarios where North Korea uses nuclear weapons, explore how to cope with them militarily, and formulate crisis management plans, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said. North Korea has traditionally described U.S.-South Korea military exercises as rehearsals for a possible invasion, while allies insist their exercises are defensive.
The United States and South Korea have scaled down or canceled some of their major drills in recent years, first to support the former Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang and then because of COVID-19. But North Korea’s growing nuclear threats have increased the need for South Korea and Japan to strengthen their defensive positions in line with their alliance with the U.S…
South Korea is seeking assurances that the United States will swiftly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to defend its ally in the face of a North Korean nuclear attack. In addition to the expansion and development of military exercises with South Korea, the United States has also committed to increasing the deployment of strategic military assets such as fighter jets and aircraft carriers on the Korean Peninsula to show strength.
In December, Japan made a major break from its strict post-World War II self-defense-only doctrine, adopting a new national security strategy that includes preemptive strikes and cruise missiles to counter growing threats from North Korea, China, and Russia.