SOUTH KOREA/NORTH KOREA: North Korea fired a ballistic missile towards the sea off its east coast on Sunday, ahead of planned, joint military drills by South Korean and U.S. forces involving an aircraft carrier and a visit to the region by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.
South Korea’s military said it was a single, short-range ballistic missile fired from near the Taechon area of North Pyongyang Province just before 7 a.m. local time and flew about 600 km (373 miles) at an altitude of 60 km and a speed of Mach 5.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, “North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile is an act of grave provocation that threatens the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and international community.”
After the launch, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Kim Seung-kyum and the U.S. forces Korea Commander Paul LaCamera deliberated on the situation and reaffirmed their military readiness to put off any further threats from North Korea, it added.
Moreover, South Korea’s National Security Council convened an emergency meeting to discuss retaliatory response measures and condemned the launch as an apparent violation of the U.N. Security Council Regulations and an unjustifiable act of meaningless provocation.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who arrived in Seoul late on Saturday from a trip to Britain, the United States and Canada, was briefed on the launch, the presidential office said.
Japan’s Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Japan estimated the missile reached a maximum altitude of 50 km but fortunately, neither entered Japan’s exclusive economic zone nor caused problems with air traffic, despite its irregular trajectory.
Many of the short-range missiles tested by North Korea in recent years have been designed to evade missile defences by manoeuvring during flight and flying on a lower, “depressed” trajectory, experts have said.
“If you include launches of cruise missiles this is the nineteenth launch, which is an unprecedented pace,” Hamada said.
“North Korea’s action represents a threat to the peace and security of our country, the region and the international community and to do this as the Ukraine invasion unfolds is unforgivable,” he said, adding that Japan had delivered a protest through North Korea’s embassy in Beijing.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command notified that they had been alerted about the launch and were consulting closely with allies, in a statement released after the launch, while reaffirming U.S. commitment to the defence of South Korea and Japan.
“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or our allies, the missile launch highlights the destabilising impact of the DPRK’s unlawful Weapons of Mass Destruction and ballistic missile programs.”
The North Korean launch was most likely triggered by the arrival of the nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in South Korea to participate in joint drills with South Korean forces for four days from Sept. 26 to 29, ahead of a planned visit to Seoul this week by Harris.
North Korea continues to thwart U.N. Security Council regulations, saying that such resolutions act as an infringement of its sovereign right to self-defence and space exploration, and has criticized previous joint drills by the United States and South Korea as being antagonistic provocations.
Meanwhile, China and Russia have also teamed up against these joint drills, called on all sides to prevent escalating tensions in the region, and have subsequently called for an easing of sanctions.
These joint drills conducted by the U.S. and South Korea have been set off by an unprecedented number of missile tests launched by North Korea this year. The two allies have gathered forces against Pyongyang to bolster joint drills and military exercises to deter the rivals’ military developments.
However, these threats may not prove entirely effective. “Defence exercises are not going to prevent North Korean missile tests,” said Leif-Eric Easley, an international affairs professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
But U.S.-South Korea security cooperation helps to deter a North Korean attack and counter Pyongyang’s coercion, and the allies should not let provocations stop them from conducting military training and exchanges needed to maintain the alliance, he added.