A sudden resurgence of tension. North Korea launched at least 23 ballistic missiles on Wednesday (November 2). One of these devices crashed near the sovereign waters of South Korea, which denounced a “territorial invasion” and responded by launching three missiles at sea. A new stage in the escalation of the war between the two countries. Such threats had not been seen since 2010 The time for relaxation seems to be over.
Because rarely were the shots so numerous and close to South Korea
“Kim Jong-un launched more rockets in one day than his father Kim Jong-il did in 15 years,” observes Antoine Bondaz, a research fellow at the Foundation for Strategic Research. North Korean ballistic attacks have increased in recent months. On Wednesday, for the first time in nearly seventy years and the end of the Korean War, Pyongyang fired a missile that crossed the “Northern Boundary Line” (NLL), which extends the demarcation line toward the sea, on either side of the peninsula. He dived in waters just 57 km east of the South Korean coast.
North Korea also fired about 100 artillery shells at the maritime “buffer zone” north of the demarcation line, which marks the maritime border between the two countries, according to Seoul. Established in 2018 to prevent random confrontations, these “buffer zones” stretch 5 km wide on either side of the demarcation line. Seoul and Pyongyang had pledged not to conduct large-scale military maneuvers there or practice live artillery fire.
Because the alliance between Seoul and Washington upsets Pyongyang
With Donald Trump’s presence in the White House, there has been a “window of opportunity for negotiations and the idea that the United States and South Korea would be willing to make concessions,” believes Antoine Bondaz. But the departure of the billionaire, who had met Kim Jong-un three times, as well as the change of presidency in South Korea changed the situation. “Yoon Suk-yeol is on a tougher course than his predecessor, Moon Jae-in, notes Antoine Bondaz. He and Joe Biden want to strengthen the Washington-Seoul alliance.”
The two countries are currently conducting the largest joint aerial exercise in their history, dubbed Vigilant Storm, involving hundreds of aircraft from both armies. These maneuvers have angered Pyongyang, which sees them as a dress rehearsal for an invasion of its territory. “When the United States and South Korea try to deploy their forces [contre la République populaire démocratique de Corée] Without fear, the DPRK armed forces’ special assets will fulfill their strategic mission without delay,” said Pak Jong Chon, marshal and secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party of North Korea, according to the state news agency KCNA.
Because another North Korean nuclear test is possible
Wednesday’s firing follows another long series in September and October, which Pyongyang has described as tactical nuclear exercises. Analysts said the ballistic blast, which failed a few dozen kilometers east of mainland South Korea, was one of the “most aggressive and menacing” in several years. These fresh shots could well lead to a new North Korean nuclear test, the seventh, five years after the last one, which took place on September 3, 2017.
“These are pre-celebrations ahead of their upcoming nuclear test,” North Korea expert Ahn Chan-il told AFP. “Of course, new tests mean that they are refining the preparation and construction of their arsenal, so we are following that very closely,” confirms Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “We hope that doesn’t happen, but unfortunately the evidence points in the other direction.”
Because the negotiations with North Korea are deadlocked
Nuclear weapons talks and diplomatic relations between Pyongyang and Washington have been deadlocked since 2019 over the lifting of sanctions and what the North would be willing to give up in return. Joe Biden and Yoon Suk-yeol’s coming to power hasn’t helped matters.
“Currently there is no more trade, no more cooperation, no more dialogue with North Korea.”
Antoine Bondaz, Research Associate at the Foundation for Strategic Research
“Kim Jong-un continues his ballistic tests to appear in a position of strength when negotiations resume,” adds the specialist. We are therefore entering a “vicious circle,” he argues, as every new North Korean shot prompts a South Korean response.
The de-escalation has not taken place for the time being, as Yoon Suk-yeol described the shot, which was fired a few tens of kilometers off the South Korean coast, as a “territorial invasion”. “That gives the impression of an abuse of language, which forces him to react militarily, analyzes Antoine Bondaz. He brings himself to a dead end.”
Because the war in Ukraine is a diversionary maneuver
These North Korean shots would have happened had it not been for the situation in Ukraine. Still, the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv works in Kim Jong-un’s favour. “That creates opportunities,” analyzes Antoine Bondaz, “which makes it all the easier in this conflict, which distracts attention and prevents international coordination.” An example of this disagreement between members of the UN Security Council is that in May 2022, for the first time since 2006, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning North Korean ballistic tests.