South Korea said that two projectiles launched by North Korea Thursday were a “new type of short-range missile” and posed a “military threat” which risked undermining the peace process on the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang fired two missiles early Thursday toward the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan. The first flew approximately 430 kilometers (265 miles), while the second flew 690 kilometers (428 miles), South Korean officials said.
The skies over the East Sea were the scene of a tense standoff this week between Japanese, South Korean, Russian and Chinese warplanes, emphasizing the uncertain nature of a region in which overlapping territorial claims and bullish militaries raise the risk of conflict, even without North Korea entering the mix.
South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said Seoul viewed Thursday’s launch “as a military threat and an action undermining efforts to alleviate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”
“The government has been closely monitoring the relevant trends and is urging Pyongyang to suspend such activities that are not helpful for efforts to ease military tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” ministry spokesman Choi Hyun-soo said. “Going forward, the (South Korean) government will strengthen its monitoring in cooperation and close communication with the US.”
A senior US administration official told CNN that they are “aware of reports of a short-range projectile launched from North Korea” but declined to offer further comment.
Adam Mount, director of the Defense Posture Project with the Federation of American Scientists, said the emergence of a new type of short-range missile was concerning, as such devices are usually “thought of as a first-strike weapon.”
“If it’s very low and very fast, that shortens warning and decision time,” he told CNN. “Those kinds of things could be useful in a retaliatory situation, but it’s even more relevant for a first strike. That’s part of why we agreed to ban (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) during the Cold War.”
First launches since Trump entered North Korea
Thursday’s launches come as US national security adviser John Bolton — a noted hawk on North Korea — visited South Korea this week to discuss bilateral strategic issues and just a few days after the North Koreans showcased photos of their leader Kim Jong Un inspecting what appeared to be a submarine, in another attempt to signal Pyongyang’s military capabilities.
They also follow President Donald Trump’s June meeting with Kim in the demilitarized zone and his brief foray into North Korea — a high-profile visit that has failed to yield any tangible signs of diplomatic progress toward the stated US goal of denuclearization.
“Trump’s trip to Panmunjom didn’t have its desired effect,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT told CNN. “There’s no date for working level talks. Instead, they’re still testing — Kim is touring potentially nuclear capable submarines and firing” missiles.
Narang said that based on initial descriptions early Thursday, at least one of the projectiles was likely a solid-fuel ballistic missile that’s been jokingly dubbed the Kimskander, a portmanteau of Kim and the Iskander missile which experts say the North Korean weapon was likely based on.