North Korea Fires Ballistic Missiles Twice Within Two Weeks

On July 12th, North Korean forces launched an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (I.C.B.M.) – Hwaseong-18 – towards Japan in a move that sought to retaliate for alleged American spy plane flights, according to The Guardian. Additionally, the North fired two extra short-range missiles into the sea on July 19th, as the United States deployed the U.S.S. Kentucky – a nuclear-armed submarine capable of shooting nuclear ballistic missiles – to South Korea for the first time in four decades, reported the Associated Press.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, declared on July 10th that there would be a “shocking” consequence if an American surveillance plane continued to violate North Korea’s air space, the B.B.C. reported. Such rhetoric demonstrates Pyongyang’s pattern of “inflating external threats to rally domestic support and justify weapons tests,” Professor Leif-Eric Easley, a North Korea expert at Ewha University in Seoul, told the B.B.C. Easley added that Pyongyang often launches missiles to “disrupt what it perceives as diplomatic co-ordination against it,” such as South Korea and Japan’s visit to the N.A.T.O. summit.

Regarding the U.S.S. Kentucky, Rear Admiral Christopher J. Cavanuagh, a director at Maritime Headquarters for the U.S. pacific fleet, told South Korean news media S.B.S. he is “very confident in [American] nuclear deterrence.” The submarine can have up to twenty ballistic missiles, each available to reach 6,400 km within 24 hours of receiving the command from the White House.

Both North and South Korea are inflaming the region’s ever-boiling tensions. North Korea has been politically and diplomatically using launches as strategies for its advantages, intensifying the missile tests when it spots security or domestic threats. South Korea, on the other hand, has been actively pursuing its military operation against North Korea with the help of the United States ever since President Yoon Seok-Yeol rose to power in 2022. Therefore, both sides are threatening the security of East Asia and the region, proven by the recent event where the North showed its constant annoyance or fear over American support to the South. The North Korean launches in July and the American deployment of the submarine have only worsened current North-South relations.

The North Korean government held its first nuclear weapon test in 2006 under Kim Jong-il, violating an international ban on such testing. However, Kim Jong-un has been escalating the number and frequency of the nation’s missile tests, using the testing as a political strategy to strengthen domestic stability through anti-American and anti-South-Korean sentiment and attempting to demonstrate his country’s strength to the international community. Despite U.N. sanctions, Kim Jong-Un has repeatedly vowed to increase North Korea’s production of nuclear warheads and development of more powerful weapons, according to the B.B.C. The number of missile launches by North Korea peaked in 2022 with more than 90 launches when the South Korean presidency transferred from Moon Jae-in, a pro-North Korean leader, to the more aggressive Yoon Seok-Yeol.

While the political interests of the Koreas’ leaders have been challenging security in the Korean peninsula and in East Asia at large, the United States has been searching for ways to confront and restrain China and North Korea, as proven by its deployment of a ballistic missile submarine into the South Korean Sea. With the United States’ upcoming presidential election in 2024 and the yet-far South Korean presidential election in 2026, politics in East Asia are about to become even more tumultuous. Unless all of these parties deprioritize their political aims and interests, peace and co-operation in the region will remain a fever dream.

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