North Korea launched at least one ballistic missile on Tuesday, which South Korean military officials said was likely meant to be launched from a submarine, in what might be the most important display of the North’s military power since US President Joe Biden entered office.
The missile was launched into the sea only hours after the United States repeated its invitation to begin negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. It demonstrated how, despite the diplomatic halt, North Korea has continued to enhance its military capabilities.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea stated in a statement that it had detected North Korea firing one short-range missile from seas near the eastern port of Sinpo, and that the South Korean and US armies were carefully assessing the launch.
The launch was carried out at sea, although the South Korean military did not specify whether it was launched from an undersea vehicle or from a launch pad above the water’s surface.
According to Japan’s military, preliminary research indicates that North Korea fired two ballistic missiles. Officials are investigating if they were fired from a submarine, according to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Because of the launch, Kishida had to cancel a campaign tour ahead of the Japanese parliamentary elections later this month. He directed his government to begin updating the country’s national security policy in order to respond to rising North Korean threats, which might include the creation of the capacity to strike North Korean military targets before they hit back.
“We cannot ignore North Korea’s recent advances in missile technology and its implications for Japan’s and the region’s security,” he added.
One of the North Korean missiles achieved a maximum height of 50 kilometers (30 miles) and flew on a “irregular trajectory” while reaching as far as 600 kilometers, according to Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi (360 miles). He claimed that the missile did not enter Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which is located outside of its territorial seas.
Despite efforts to rekindle dialogue, South Korean authorities conducted a national security council meeting and voiced “deep sorrow” over the launch. North Korea has accused Seoul of hypocrisy for condemning the North’s nuclear tests while building its own conventional military capabilities. A robust South Korean reaction might enrage North Korea.
The alleged missile launch location, a shipyard in Sinpo, is a key defense industrial center where North Korea concentrates its submarine construction. North Korea has also exploited Sinpo in recent years to create ballistic missile systems that can be launched from submarines.
In October of this year, North Korea conducted its most recent test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM.
After unveiling at least two new submarine-launched missiles at military parades in 2020 and 2021, analysts expected North Korea to start testing of such weapons. There have also been indications that North Korea is attempting to construct a bigger submarine capable of transporting and launching several missiles.
Yoshihiko Isozaki, Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, said Tokyo has sent a “strong protest” to North Korea via the “normal routes,” referring to their embassies in Beijing. There are no official relations between Japan and North Korea.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have reached a “critical level,” according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Wang Wenbin, who has urged for a fresh commitment to a diplomatic solution.
After a months-long calm in September, North Korea resumed its nuclear tests while making conditional peace overtures to Seoul, resuming a pattern of putting pressure on South Korea to gain what it wants from the US.
According to Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles because he wants a more survivable nuclear deterrent capable of blackmailing his neighbors and the United States.”
According to Easley, North Korea “cannot afford to seem to be falling behind in a regional weapons competition” with its southern neighbor.
He said, “North Korea’s SLBM is undoubtedly a long way from being operationally deployed with a nuclear payload.”