North Korea Launches 2 Short-Range Missiles into the Sea while US Deploys Nuclear Submarine in South Korea
North Korea fires missiles as US deploys submarine to South Korea.
In a display of defiance, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the eastern sea on Wednesday. This comes as the United States deployed a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea for the first time in decades. The launches occurred as the U.S.-led United Nations Command works to secure the release of a U.S. soldier who fled to North Korea from the South Korean side of a border village.
The soldier, Private 2nd Class Travis King, had recently been released from a South Korean prison where he was held on assault charges. Instead of returning to Fort Bliss, Texas, King joined a tour of the Korean border village of Panmunjom and crossed over into North Korea, according to U.S. officials.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that the missiles were fired from an area near the capital Pyongyang, between 3:30 and 3:46 a.m. They flew approximately 550 kilometers (341 miles) before landing in waters east of the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese military confirmed these flight details, stating that the missiles landed outside of Japan's exclusive economic zone and did not cause any immediate damage.
The distance traveled by the North Korean missiles is similar to the distance between Pyongyang and the South Korean port city of Busan, where the USS Kentucky, a U.S. nuclear-armed submarine, arrived on Tuesday. This marks the first visit by a U.S. submarine of this kind to South Korea since the 1980s.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada described the missiles as traveling on a low trajectory, reaching a maximum altitude of about 50 kilometers (31 miles). He also suggested that they may have demonstrated irregular maneuverability during flight. This flight pattern is reminiscent of a North Korean weapon modeled after Russia's Iskander missile, which is designed to evade missile defenses.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff condemned the launches as a major provocation that threatens peace and stability in the region. They stated that both the South Korean and U.S. militaries are closely monitoring North Korea for any further weapons activities.
These missile launches are the first ballistic activity by North Korea since July 12, when they tested a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile. This test demonstrated the potential range to reach deep into the U.S. mainland. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised the launch and vowed to further enhance the country's nuclear fighting capabilities in response to what he perceived as escalating U.S.-South Korean military activities.
Tensions in the region have been rising in recent months as both North Korea and the U.S.-South Korean alliance have increased their military drills and weapons tests. Since the beginning of 2022, North Korea has test-fired approximately 100 missiles, aiming to demonstrate their ability to conduct nuclear attacks on both South Korea and the United States. In response, the allies have intensified their joint military training and agreed to deploy more U.S. strategic assets, such as long-range bombers, aircraft carriers, and submarines, to the region.
The periodic visits by U.S. nuclear ballistic missile-capable submarines to South Korea were part of the agreements reached between U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in April. These agreements aimed to address North Korea's growing nuclear threat and assuage South Korean concerns. They also included plans to expand joint military exercises, enhance nuclear contingency planning, and establish a bilateral Nuclear Consultative Group.
The arrival of the USS Kentucky in Busan reflects the United States' commitment to extended deterrence, which involves defending its ally with full military capabilities, including nuclear ones. The Ohio-class submarine can carry around 20 Trident II ballistic missiles with a range of 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles).
While some South Korean conservatives may have desired the stationing of U.S. nuclear weapons or strategic assets in the country, offshore placement and submarine deployment can actually be a stronger deterrent. Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at Washington's Center for a New American Security, explains that deterrence is enhanced when the adversary is unaware of the location of strategic assets but knows they exist.
However, finding the right balance between the visibility of America's extended deterrent and maintaining its effectiveness will be crucial for Seoul and Washington. Too much visibility could undermine the deterrent effect, while too little could raise questions about commitment.
In conclusion, North Korea's missile launches into the eastern sea and the deployment of a U.S. nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea mark significant developments in the ongoing tensions in the region. The actions of both countries reflect their efforts to assert their military capabilities and deter potential threats. The situation remains highly volatile, and close monitoring of further weapons activities is necessary to maintain peace and stability in the region.