The South Korean and US militaries fired a barrage of missiles into the sea in response to North Korea’s likely longest-ever test, even as global condemnation grew over Pyongyang’s actions.
On Tuesday, North Korea launched an Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) over Japan for the first time in five years, prompting Tokyo to issue evacuation orders for some residents. In response, South Korea and the United States conducted their own drill, firing ground-to-ground missiles into the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, according to Seoul’s military. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said both militaries launched two ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles into the water “to precisely strike a virtual target."
Amid the ‘escalation’, News18 take a deeper delve into the entire row:
Last ‘Fire and Fury’
For the first time in five years, North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday, prompting Tokyo to activate its missile alert system and issue a rare warning for people to seek shelter. The latest launch comes in the midst of a record year for North Korea, which recently revised its laws to declare itself a “irreversible" nuclear power.
The last time Pyongyang fired a missile over Japan was in 2017, at the height of a period of “fire and fury" when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un traded insults with then US president Donald Trump.
Pyongyang used Hwasong-12s the last two times it fired missiles over Japan — in August and September 2017 — tweeted Chad O’Carroll of specialist site NK News.
A Clear ‘Nuclear Message’
The Tuesday test is Pyongyang’s fifth missile launch in 10 days and sends a clear message to the United States, Park Won-gon, professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha University in Seoul, told AFP. The missiles “put South Korea, Japan, and Guam within range" and show that Pyongyang could hit US bases with nukes if war broke out on the Korean peninsula, he said.
“As these are missiles that can carry nuclear warheads, the launch also has a political goal of once again declaring North Korea a de facto nuclear power and showing its complete denuclearisation is impossible," Park added.
Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have been ramping up joint military drills to counter Pyongyang’s growing threats, staging the first trilateral anti-submarine drills in five years Friday. That came just days after the US and South Korean navies conducted large-scale exercises.
Such drills infuriate North Korea, which sees them as rehearsals for an invasion.
Amid Harris’ Visit
US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Seoul last week and toured the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean peninsula, on a trip to underscore her country’s commitment to South Korea’s defence. About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea to help protect it from the North.
Firing a missile over Japan represented a “significant escalation" by North Korea, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University. “Pyongyang is still in the middle of a provocation and testing cycle," he added.
South Korean and US officials have been warning for months that Kim is preparing to conduct another nuclear test, saying last week that this could happen soon after Pyongyang’s key ally China holds a Communist Party congress from October 16.
Pyongyang has tested nuclear weapons six times since 2006, most recently in 2017. “North Korea always starts with a low-level provocation and gradually raises the level to attract media attention from all over the world," said Go Myong-hyun, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
“Their final provocation will probably be a nuclear test," he said, adding that North Korea had taken the unusual and “very aggressive" step of overflying Japan to attract more attention. “By launching the missile over Japan, they are showing that their nuclear threat is not just targeting South Korea."
The United States, Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. Diplomats said it is likely to be held Wednesday, but it’s not certain whether it will be open or closed. North Korea has test-fired about 40 missiles over about 20 different launch events this year as its leader, Kim Jong Un, refuses to return to nuclear diplomacy with the United States.
The United States strongly condemned North Korea’s “dangerous and reckless decision” to launch what it described as a “long-range ballistic missile” over Japan. “The United States will continue its efforts to limit (North Korea’s) ability to advance its prohibited ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs, including with allies and U.N. partners,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned North Korea’s firing of a ballistic missile over Japan, the latest in a record year of sanctions-busting weapons tests by Pyongyang. “This is clearly an escalation," said Guterres spokesman Stephane Dujarric in a statement.
The United Nations chief called on North Korean authorities to resume dialogue with key parties to work towards the “complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."
With inputs from agencies