N. Korea’s missile launches put Yoon’s security policy to the test

Posted on : 2022-05-26 17:06 KST Modified on : 2022-05-26 17:06 KST
The new South Korean president called the launches a “serious provocation” and ordered the reinforcement of extended deterrence capabilities
President Yoon Suk-yeol presides over a National Security Council meeting on May 25 following North Korea’s missile launches. (provided by the presidential office)
President Yoon Suk-yeol presides over a National Security Council meeting on May 25 following North Korea’s missile launches. (provided by the presidential office)

North Korea test-fired three missiles over the East Sea on Wednesday morning, including an intercontinental ballistic missile and short-range ballistic missiles.

The North’s second military provocation since Yoon Suk-yeol took office as South Korean president, the launches came four days after a South Korea-US summit. With Pyongyang ratcheting up tension with its show of force in the wake of that summit — where Yoon and US President Joe Biden signaled a hard-line approach toward the North including strong allied defense and extended deterrence — Yoon now finds himself facing the task of managing a crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff announced Wednesday that it had detected three ballistic missiles launched by North Korea over the East Sea from the Sunan area of Pyongyang at 6:00, 6:37, and 6:42 that morning.

At around 7:35 am, Yoon presided over his first National Security Council meeting since taking office, which was held at the presidential office in Seoul’s Yongsan neighborhood. There, he referred to the North’s missile launch as a “serious provocation that violates UN Security Council resolutions, raises tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, and threatens international peace.”

According to the presidential office, Yoon also “ordered the implementation of practical measures including the reinforcement of extended deterrence capabilities and the South Korea-US allied defense posture as agreed upon between the South Korean and US leaders.”

In a subsequent statement, the administration sent a message warning Pyongyang that “continued provocations will only lead to stronger and swifter South Korea-US allied deterrence and result in North Korea’s international isolation.” In response to the North’s missile launches, the South Korean and US militaries each test-launched a missile over the East Sea the same morning: a Hyunmoo-2 surface-to-surface missile in South Korea’s case, an Army Tactical Missile System in the US’ case.

Yoon’s presidential office said North Korea’s test of missiles shortly after the South Korea-US summit and Monday’s US-Japan summit posed a “simultaneous threat to the South Korea-US alliance.” The method used by the North — combining one long-range missile with two short-range ones — was seen as a provocation sending the message that the mainland US, South Korea, and US Forces Japan bases are all within reach of its missiles.

“When [North Korea] began its provocations at a similar time to when President Biden was entering US airspace after completing his visits [to South Korea and Japan], that was sending a strategic message to both South Korea and the US,” said Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of the Office of National Security, in a press briefing.

Security advisors contacted officials in the US and Japan to emphasize the importance of a “strong security alliance” as the two leaders announced at their summit.

South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin spoke by telephone with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-up spoke with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. In both cases, the conversations included discussions on coordination toward the adoption of another UNSC resolution sanctioning North Korea, the deployment of US strategic assets in anticipation of additional provocations, and an early meeting of the South Korea-US senior-level Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group.

Park also spoke with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, sharing a message condemning North Korea’s ballistic missile launch.

The problem is that Pyongyang is very likely to continue ratcheting up the level of its military activities going forward — including a possible seventh nuclear test.

Reporting that North Korea had been detected testing a nuclear detonation device for a seventh nuclear test at its Punggye Village test site, Kim Tae-hyo said that the “final stage of preparation is imminent.”

In an interview Monday with CNN, Yoon said his administration would be different from past ones in its response measures, signaling his plans for a stern response to North Korean provocations. But the response Wednesday was not much different from those of the previous administration — a seeming reflection of the lack of practical means of deterring the North without also dramatically raising the level of tensions on the peninsula.

“If our response today was relatively restrained and focused on sending what message we could without increasing mutual tensions, then we’re going to explore additional measures going forward, depending on the type of provocation,” Kim said.

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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