North Korea tested two short-range ballistic missiles on Saturday, its neighbors said, this week’s fourth round of weapons launches that drew swift and strong condemnation from its rivals.
In an unusually strong rebuke to North Korea’s weapons programs, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said North Korea’s “obsession” with nuclear weapons is deepening the suffering of its own people, and he warned of an “overwhelming response” from the South Korean and US militaries. such weapons are used.
“North Korea has not abandoned its obsession with nuclear weapons and missiles despite persistent international objection over the past 30 years,” Yoon said during an Armed Forces Day ceremony. “The development of nuclear weapons will plunge the lives of North Koreans into more pain.”
“If North Korea tries to use nuclear weapons, it will face an overwhelming and determined response from the South Korea-US alliance and our military,” Yoon said.
Yoon’s comments could anger North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has alleged Yoon’s government was run by “confrontation maniacs” and “gangsters.” Kim has already rejected Yoon’s offers of massive aid and support plans in exchange for denuclearization.
North Korea’s testing spree this week is seen as a response to recent South Korea-U.S. naval exercises and their other training involving Japan. North Korea sees such military exercises by allies as an invasion rehearsal and argues that they reveal the “double standards” of the United States and South Korea by calling the North’s weapons tests a provocation.
On Saturday, the militaries of South Korea, Japan and the United States said they detected the two North Korean missile launches. South Korea said the liftoffs occurred from North Korea’s capital region.
According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the missiles flew about 350 to 400 kilometers (220 to 250 miles) at a maximum altitude of 30 to 50 kilometers (20 to 30 miles) before landing in the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan. Toshiro Ino, Japan’s deputy defense minister, the missiles showed an “irregular” trajectory.
Some observers say the weapons’ reported low and “jagged” trajectory suggests they were likely highly maneuverable nuclear-capable missiles modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile. They say North Korea has developed Iskander-like missiles to defeat South Korean and US missile defenses and strike key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.
The other five ballistic missiles fired by North Korea three times this week show trajectories similar to those detected on Saturday.
“North Korea’s repeated launches of ballistic missiles are a serious provocation that undermines peace and security on the Korean peninsula and in the international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Toshiro Ino, Japan’s deputy defense minister, called the launches “absolutely unacceptable,” adding that North Korea’s four rounds of missile tests in one week are “unprecedented.”
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches highlight “the destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s illegal weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
On Friday, South Korea, Japan and the United States held their first trilateral anti-submarine drills in five years off the east coast of the Korean peninsula. Earlier this week, South Korean and US warships held bilateral exercises in the area for four days. Both military exercises this week involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and her battle group.
North Korea’s missile tests this week also brought an end to US Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to South Korea on Thursday, where she reaffirmed the US’s “uncompromising” commitment to the security of its Asian allies.
This year, North Korea has carried out a record number of missile tests in what experts call a bid to expand its weapons arsenal amid stalled nuclear diplomacy with the United States. Weapons tested this year included nuclear-capable missiles with the ability to reach the continental United States, South Korea and Japan.
North Korea adopted a new law in September authorizing the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain situations, a move that shows its escalating nuclear doctrine.
South Korean and US officials say North Korea has also completed preparations for a nuclear test, which would be its first in five years.
Experts say Kim Jong Un ultimately wants to use the expanded nuclear arsenal to pressure the United States and others to accept his country as a legitimate nuclear state, a recognition he sees as necessary to win the lifting of international sanctions and other concessions.