North Korea claims “irreversible” nuclear power status and justifies its provocations by finger-pointing at joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea.
North Korea on Thursday launched new projectiles, including an apparently failed ICBM and another of an “undefined type,” the day after a record volley of gunfire that escalated tensions in the region.
“North Korea has launched a missile of an undefined type,” South Korean army chiefs said without further details on Thursday, hours after Seoul announced the continuation of military air exercises with the United States. Continuing these exercises is “a very dangerous and bad choice,” said Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the North Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee, according to a statement from the official KCNA agency.
That launch was preceded by other launches Thursday, including a ballistic missile launch that Seoul said failed. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the first three projectiles — two short-range missiles followed by an ICBM — had been fired from the north toward the Sea of Japan Thursday morning. “North Korea’s launch of an ICBM would likely have ended in failure” during the separation of the missile’s second stage, the South Korean army said. According to her, this rocket traveled 760 km at a maximum altitude of 1920 km and at a speed of Mach 15 (15 times the speed of sound). The other two first rockets flew about 330 km at Mach 5 and a maximum altitude of 70 km.
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Air raid sirens sounded on the South Korean island of Ulleungdo, 120 km east of the Korean Peninsula, for the second straight day, local media reported. Alarms were also raised in northern Japan, although the missile ultimately failed to fly over the archipelago, contrary to officials’ initial claims. According to Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, the projectile “disappeared over the Sea of Japan.” “The continuous rocket fire day after day is a crime and cannot be tolerated,” said Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The launch “underscores the need for all countries to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions” sanctioning North Korea, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
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On October 4, a North Korean ballistic missile flew over Japan for the first time in five years. As of Wednesday, North Korea had already fired 23 missiles, one of which crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which extends the inter-Korean land border at sea, while remaining in international waters.
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“De Facto Territorial Invasion”
According to the South Korean military, it was the first time since the end of the Korean War in 1953 that a North Korean projectile ended its course so close to southern territorial waters. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said Wednesday the shooting constituted “a de facto territorial invasion.”
This show of force by Pyongyang comes as South Korea and the United States are conducting the largest air exercises in their history in the region. The two allies decided on Thursday to expand those drills “in the face of recent provocations from the north,” the South Korean army said. Analysts said the exercise, dubbed “Vigilant Storm,” worried Pyongyang because it involved F-35A and F-35B stealth jets. Devices that “could be used in beheading operations” by Kim Jong Un’s regime, argued Go Myong-hyun, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
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Indeed, in the summer of 2022, reports of US-South Korean training in lightning-fast “decapitation” strikes against North Korean leaders had circulated. Compounding fears for Pyongyang, which already sees frequent joint maneuvers by American and South Korean armies as a dress rehearsal for an invasion of its territory. “Vigilant Storm” represents “an aggressive and provocative military maneuver against the DPRK,” condemned the North Korean regime on Wednesday, which threatened Seoul and Washington “to pay the most terrible price in history.” The United States and South Korea have been warning for months that North Korea will conduct what would be its seventh nuclear test.
“Preparations for their future nuclear test”
In late September, Kim Jong Un’s regime passed a new doctrine that proclaimed the “irreversible” nature of the country’s nuclear power status, made future talks on its denuclearization impossible, and reserved the right to carry out pre-emptive strikes. This proclamation was followed in September and October by a long series of missile tests presented by Pyongyang as “tactical nuclear” simulations. The latest series of shots “are preliminary celebrations for their future nuclear test,” predicted Ahn Chan-il, a researcher specializing in North Korea. “It also looks like a series of practical tests for their tactical nuclear use,” he told AFP.
North Korea broke a 2017 self-imposed moratorium on ICBM tests in March, but has since suffered multiple setbacks. Also in March, an Hwasong-17, believed to be the most powerful ICBM developed by Pyongyang, apparently exploded shortly after launch, and a fireball was visible in the sky over the northern capital. And in May, the South Korean military reported an ICBM launch failure.
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