Should We Be Worried About North Korea’s Missile Tests?

North Korea has tested its missiles twice in the past couple of days. What do we know about the missiles, and what does this test mean for other countries?

What Happened?

South Korea’s military said that North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on Wednesday. This news comes two days after North Korea claimed to have tested a new missile in its first weapons test in six months. The missile launch has been confirmed by other countries as well.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that two ballistic missiles were fired from central North Korea into waters off the eastern coast of the peninsula on Wednesday afternoon. Japan’s Coast Guard also stated that it identified two missiles, which fell outside of the country’s exclusive economic zone. A statement said that South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analysing more details about the North Korean launches. It added that South Korea has augmented its anti-North Korea surveillance posture.

Tell Me About The Missiles

North Korea described the missiles as “new type long-range cruise missiles” and said that the missiles were a “strategic weapon on great significance”. Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Monday that the missiles travelled for 126 minutes along “oval and pattern-8 flight orbits” above land and water, demonstrating an ability to hit targets 1,500 kilometres (932 miles) away.

Experts told AP that the missiles launched over the weekend resemble in appearance U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles. Experts also told AP that, while North Korea had tested anti-ship cruise missiles before, the missiles from its latest tests are likely built with different designs, and engines that offer improved range, and manoeuvrability.

Reaction To The Missile Test

After the launch, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters, as mentioned by Bloomberg, “It is an outrage and a threat to the peace and safety of our country and the region.” Mr. Suga added, “It is also a contravention of United Nations Security Council resolutions, so we protest strongly and condemn this action.”

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said that the country had “significant concerns”, and was working with the U.S. and South Korea to monitor the situation. The U.S. military said that the test showed North Korea’s “continuing focus on developing its military programme.” The U.S. military also said that its commitment to defending allies South Korea and Japan remained “ironclad.” Top-level officials from the three countries will be meeting this week to discuss North Korea’s denuclearisation process.

Problems With The U.S.

Several countries have had problems with North Korea, so this missile test is sending alarm bells amongst some, including the U.S. Since 2019, discussions between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled when the Americans rejected the North’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility. Until now, Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, has threatened to build high-tech weapons targeting the U.S. Kim also rejected the U.S. President Joe Biden administration’s overtures for dialogue, and demanded that Washington should abandon its “hostile” policies first.

Recently, North Korea and the U.S. were locking horns because of the former’s missile test, that happened in March this year. In March 2021, North Korea launched a new type of tactical short-range ballistic missile. This prompted the U.S. to request a gathering of the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) sanctions committee. According to Jo Chol Sun, director-general for international organisations at North Korea’s foreign ministry, as mentioned by Al Jazeera, at the committee meeting, the U.S. called for imposing additional sanctions, and tightening the implementation of existing measures, denouncing the test as a violation of UN resolutions. On the other hand, North Korea accused the UNSC of double standards due to the sanctions committee criticising the country’s missile test.

What This Means?

It is clear that North Korea is facing problems with regards to its missile tests, and the country is even barred from launching ballistic missiles under United Nations resolutions. However, cruise missiles, the ones that were launched by the country recently, do not face the same restrictions. We know for a fact that North Korea has been testing only cruise missiles. So, Kim’s decision to scale back ballistic missiles could make it easier for him to get back to the negotiating table with Biden. But why would Kim want that?

Because of the current situation. At present, North Korea is maintaining an indefinite border lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, and no prospect in sight for the ending of international sanctions. Du Hyeogn Cha, an analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies told AP, “While the cruise missiles were clearly a statement of defiance toward Washington, the tests possibly indicated that the North is struggling with more provocative weapons systems — such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles.” So, according to some experts, these missile tests might not be an indicator of North Korea’s supremacy, but it might be an indicator of the country’s struggle with developing advanced weapons, maybe because of the sanctions.

However, there is another set of experts who are saying that this testing might be North Korea’s way of stressing other countries. Ankit Panda, the Stanton senior fellow in the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told Bloomberg, “The purpose of this system may be to further stress South Korean and Japanese missile-defense capabilities.” Panda noted how cruise missiles, present a different set of detection, and interception challenges from their ballistic counterparts.

Maybe North Korea is trying to force the Biden administration to lift the sanctions with these missile tests or it might be trying to show its weapon capabilities to South Korea and Japan in order to coerce or stress them. Whatever the reason might be, we can be sure of one thing — These missile tests will cause countries, including the U.S., South Korea, and Japan to be wary of the North’s activities. We might also see tensions rising in the upcoming summits, but we hope that these countries can find a solution through their peaceful talks, instead of aggravating the issues.

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