SEOUL — North Korea launched three ballistic missiles toward waters off its east coast on Wednesday, the South Korean military said as President Biden completed a trip to the region.
It was North Korea’s 17th missile test this year. The two missiles were launched from Sunan, near Pyongyang, the capital of the north, at 6:00 AM, 6:37 AM and 6:42 AM, the South Korean military said. US and South Korean officials have warned in recent weeks that the North was ready to conduct a nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile test.
It last conducted an ICBM test on March 24, breaking a self-imposed moratorium on such testing that had been in place since 2018.
The missile launches on Wednesday were a strong signal from the north that it was embarking on a new cycle of tensions in the Korean peninsula, despite the country’s first reported outbreak of the coronavirus. It was also North Korea’s first response to Mr Biden’s trip to the region, where he met with leaders of US allies South Korea and Japan and pledged to step up measures, including joint military exercises, to growing nuclear and missile attack. threat from the north.
During a meeting with South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul on Saturday, Mr. Biden said the United States would strengthen the alliance and increase deterrence in the face of the North Korean threat. Mr. Biden and Mr. Yoon announced that they would explore ways to expand the joint military exercises that had been canceled or scaled down under President Donald J. Trump.
Read more about Biden’s trip to Asia
Mr Yoon himself was also highly skeptical of North Korea, saying his predecessor Moon Jae-in’s efforts to engage in dialogue and reconciliation with North Korea had failed to roll back its nuclear weapons program.
When Mr Yoon was sworn in on May 10, he dangled “a bold plan” to vastly improve the economy of the north and the quality of life of the people. But like his conservative predecessors, he added an important caveat: Such economic greatness would only be possible “if North Korea really embarks on a process to complete denuclearization.”
Wednesday’s missile test indicated that North Korea was not interested in talks on nuclear disarmament any time soon. Speaking at an overnight military parade in April, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un reiterated that his people must prepare “for a long period of time” for a stalemate with the United States. At the same time, he promised to expand his arsenal of warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles and other delivery vehicles “at the highest possible speed”.
Mr Kim also appears to be adopting a more aggressive nuclear doctrine in recent weeks.
In the same speech last month, Mr. Kim appeared to be taking a page from President Vladimir V. Putin’s playbook of Russia when he warned that his nuclear arsenal was not only meant to deter foreign invasions, but also to be used. “if there are armed forces”. trying to violate the fundamental interests of our state.”
Last month, Mr Kim’s sister and spokeswoman Kim Yo-jong said North Korea could use nuclear weapons “at the start of a war.” After a short-range missile test last month, Mr. Kim that he was improving the “efficiency” of the battlefield or “tactical nuclear weapons”.
North Korea has ended all nuclear and ICBM and nuclear tests to pave the way for the first summit between Mr Kim and Mr Trump in 2018. But its unprecedented diplomacy ended without an agreement on how nuclear North Korea’s program had to be dismantled or sanctions lifted.
Kim has since vowed to find a “new way” to deal with Washington and has begun testing a variety of new missiles. Analysts viewed his actions as raising the stakes in his confrontation with Washington and its allies by quickly amassing a fleet of nuclear-tipped missiles and changing his country’s nuclear doctrine.
The new cycle of tension exposes an inconvenient truth for both Mr Yoon and the Biden administration: Despite decades of negotiations and sanctions, North Korea’s nuclear capabilities have only grown stronger and more dangerous.
“North Korea continues to improve, expand and diversify its conventional and nuclear missile capabilities, posing an increasing risk to the US homeland and US troops, allies and partners in the region,” John Plumb, US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy , the Senate Armed Services Committee said earlier this month. “Most of North Korea’s ballistic missiles have a rated capability to carry nuclear payloads.”