The missile launches came after North Korea on Saturday publicly justified its flurry of missile test launches as a “planned self-defensive” action against US military threats and denounced the US for repositioning a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier near the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said two short-range ballistic missiles were fired from the area of the city of Munchon in Kangwon Province toward the East Sea from 1:48 a.m. to 1:58 a.m. on Sunday.
The short-range ballistic missiles traveled about 350 kilometers at a speed of Mach 5 and an altitude of around 90 km, the JCS said in a statement, adding that South Korean and US intelligence authorities are analyzing the specifications.
The JCS said its chief, Gen. Kim Seung-kyum, and Gen. Paul LaCamera, chief of the United Nations Command and United States Forces Korea, held a virtual meeting and shared their assessment of the situation.
“Our military will maintain a firm readiness posture while tracking and monitoring related moves in preparation for further provocations by North Korea in close coordination with the US,” the JCS said.
Reinforcing detterence ‘dramatically’
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Sunday vowed to “dramatically” reinforce the US extended deterrence and the alliance’s deterrence against North Korean threats in a statement following an emergency National Security Council meeting.
Yoon was immediately informed of the launches, before national security adviser Kim Sung-han convened the emergency meeting.
Yoon underscored the importance of strengthening the US extended deterrence by reinforcing combined defense posture to
deter North Korean threats and make the country realize that the possession of nuclear weapons undermines its economy and security.
South Korea’s military will further bolster its combined defense posture through joint drills with the United States and security cooperation among South Korea, the US and Japan to deter threats from North Korea, while preparing thoroughly against additional provocations by North Korea, according to the outcome of the NSC meeting.
The NSC warned Pyongyang that its continued provocations would lead to further isolation, and strengthen international sanctions and deteriorate the livelihoods of its people to ultimately destabilize its system, according to the presidential office.
Seoul’s top nuclear envoy also held phone talks with his US and Japanese counterparts on Sunday to reaffirm their commitment to cooperation in handling North Korean threats.
In separate calls, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs spoke with Sung Kim, the US special representative for North Korea, and Takehiro Funakoshi, director general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at Japan’s Foreign Ministry.
In their talks, the officials noted that it was “not acceptable” for North Korea to justify its “illegal” missile launches as defense measures against the joint military drills of the South and the US, urging Pyongyang to immediately stop the provocations that raise military tension on the Korean Peninsula and the region.
‘Ordinary, planned self-defensive measures’
North Korea fired a total of 12 ballistic missiles in seven discrete launches over 15 days from Sept. 25 through Sunday. The launches were notably conducted at different places and times.
North Korea has fired ballistic missiles in unusually short intervals as the country has sought to justify its recent spate of ballistic missile launches as a self-defensive measure to protect the country and a legitimate tit-for-tat action against the recent South Korea-US combined military exercises.
North Korea’s Defense Ministry on Saturday claimed that the redeployment of the US carrier strike group near the Korean Peninsula is an “event of considerably huge negative splash to the regional situation,” justifying its recent spate of missile launches.
“This is a sort of military bluffing meant to issue the so-called warning to the righteous reaction shown by the Korean People’s Army to the extremely provocative and threatening joint military drills of the US and South Korea,” an English-language statement -- which was issued under the name of an unnamed spokesperson and carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency -- read.
“The armed forces of the DPRK are seriously approaching the extremely worrisome development of the present situation.”
DPRK refers to North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The North's Defense Ministry’s statement was released at a time when the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and the South Korean Navy’s warships were staging a new round of two-day exercises in international waters of the East Sea to strengthen combined defense capabilities against mounting threats from North Korea.
The bilateral drills began Friday after the USS Ronald Reagan made a sudden U-turn in a tit-for-tat military action against North Korea’s Tuesday launch of a suspected intermediate-range ballistic missile that traveled around 4,500 kilometers and flew over Japan.
The rare redeployment came days after the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group joined a trilateral anti-submarine warfare exercise that was conducted in the East Sea's international waters by the navies of South Korea, the US and Japan on Sept. 30.
The US carrier strike group conducted bilateral naval exercises with the South Korean Navy’s fleet from Sept. 26 to 29 in the East Sea operational area, called the Korea Theater of Operations, after they entered a naval base in Busan on Sept. 23 for the first time since 2017.
In addition, North Korea’s National Aviation Administration on Saturday claimed that the country’s flurry of missile launches was a legitimate defensive measure against US threats in a press statement, according to the KCNA.
The agency’s unnamed spokesperson underscored that its missile test launches are “ordinary and planned self-defensive measures to defend the country’s safety and regional peace from the US direct military threats that have lasted for more than half a century” in the Korean-language press statement.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday also claimed that the recent missile launches were “just counteraction measures” against the South Korea-US bilateral naval exercises held from Sept. 26-29, warning of consequences for the redeployment of the USS Ronald Reagan.
But in the wake of North Korea’s recent spate of ballistic missile launches, South Korean and US defense leaders publicly and repeatedly reaffirmed the allies’ commitment to taking tit-for-tat military actions against North Korea’s provocation.
South Korea’s Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and the commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. John Aquilino, on Friday shared the allies’ common understanding that the “more provocations North Korea makes, the stronger the alliance's military response will be.”
By Ji Da-gyum (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Jo He-rim (email@example.com)