The South Korean military and United States Forces Korea each fired two ground-to-ground missiles into the eastern sea of South Korea on Wednesday, a day after North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
The Army Tactical Missile System missiles hit mock targets precisely and the drill demonstrated the two allies’ combined deterrence capability, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
On Tuesday, about 10 hours after the North fired the IRBM, the air forces of South Korea and the US conducted a joint precision strike exercise. A South Korean F-15K fighter jet fired two Joint Direct Attack Munition precision bombs at mock targets in seas to the west of the Korean Peninsula.
The US Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group reentered the eastern sea of South Korea on Wednesday for a three-way combined exercise involving the South Korean Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.
The US aircraft carrier arrived in Busan on Sept. 23 and held combined maritime exercises with South Korea from Sept. 26-29 in the eastern sea. South Korea and the US also conducted an anti-submarine warfare drill with Japan on Sept. 30.
The redeployment of the USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group to the Korean Peninsula is highly unusual.
It is desirable for the military authorities of South Korea and the US to make swift and strong combined responses to North Korea’s missile provocation. However, a fundamental task for the two allies is to make such responses more substantial and effective.
North Korea promulgated a law enshrining the right to automatically use preemptive nuclear strikes when attack from a hostile state is imminent or when it is strategically necessary to do so.
The communist state has continued conducting missile launches in unusually short intervals. In the past, it refrained from firing a missile during South Korea-US combined military training, but recently it fired four ballistic missiles in a week.
Apparently it kept the US aircraft carrier in view. On Oct. 1, which was South Korea's Armed Forces Day, the North fired a missile with a range of 350 kilometers as if it was aiming at the anniversary venue. The IRBM it fired recently was capable of reaching US military bases in Japan and Guam, a US island in the North Pacific Ocean, where American strategic assets are stationed.
North Korea is seen as likely to fire an intercontinental ballistic missile or a submarine-launched ballistic missile and conduct its seventh atomic bomb test around the US midterm elections.
All of North Korea’s recent missile launches have been in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions that sanction the country, but the function of the UNSC has effectively broken down due to China and Russia wielding their veto power. There are few UN alternatives to put more pressure on North Korea.
Rather, the likelihood of China and Russia supporting North Korea more blatantly increased amid fierce competition over global supply between the US and China and with Russia’s escalation of aggression in Ukraine.
Condemnation or appeal to the international community represents little to North Korea. South Korea must figure out substantial and effective measures to incapacitate North Korea’s escalating provocations and nuclear threat.
In his speech on Armed Forces Day, President Yoon Suk-yeol vowed an overwhelming response. This is the right way to go.
North Korea’s recent missile launches reveal the intention to crack the trilateral security cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan, and to rattle the US-South Korea efforts to strengthen deterrence capability.
If the North ramps up provocations, South Korea and the US must respond more sternly and strengthen security cooperation with Japan. It was just as well for the three countries to resume their combined anti-submarine drill in five years. They need to conduct combined missile interception exercises as well.
It is practically impossible to denuclearize North Korea through negotiation. And yet the door for dialogue must be open. Above all, South Korea and the US must focus on preparing more substantial and effective responses.
Peace comes when power becomes balanced.