North Korea test-fires submarine missile amid nuclear test concerns
North Korea launched a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Saturday, its second launch in three days after the US warned Pyongyang could be planning a nuclear test. The launch comes just two days before neighboring South Korea's new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, takes office. Notably, Pyongyang accelerated its missile launches in 2022, conducting 15 tests including the first full-range intercontinental ballistic missile launch since 2017.
- North Korea conducted six nuclear tests before engaging in excessively high diplomacy with the US in 2017, with ex-US President Donald Trump meeting with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un four times.
- According to analysts, North Korea's Jong-un may be sending a message to Seoul he isn't interested in dialog with its new government, which has vowed to take a hardline position vis-a-vis North Korea.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement on Saturday saying, "Our military detected around 14:07 (0507 GMT)...a short-range ballistic missile presumed to be an SLBM fired from waters off Sinpo, South Hamgyong." Meanwhile, satellite imagery suggests North Korea is gearing up to resume nuclear testing, with the US warning on Friday that a nuclear test could happen "as early as this month."
While overseeing a massive military parade last week, North Korean leader Jong-un pledged to build his nuclear military "at the fastest possible speed" and threatened potential "pre-emptive" strikes. The US stated on Friday that Pyongyang was "preparing its Punggye-ri test site" for nuclear testing. Meanwhile, the Japanese coast guard has also issued a warning to its ships to be wary of North Korea.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden is set to visit Japan and South Korea later this month, where Pyongyang is expected to be a major topic of discussion. Reportedly, Pyongyang might conduct a test during Biden's visit or Suk-yeol's inauguration on Tuesday. Suk-yeol, taking a strong position, has asked for more US military units to be positioned in South Korea despite Seoul's conventional military superiority.
"Instead of accepting invitations to dialogue, the [Kim Jong-un] regime appears to be preparing a tactical nuclear warhead test," said Seoul's Ewha University professor Leif-Eric Easley. "A seventh nuclear test would be the first since September 2017 and raise tensions on the Korean peninsula, increasing dangers of miscalculation and miscommunication between the Kim [Jong-un] regime and the incoming Yoon [Suk-yeol] administration," Easley added.
South Korea tested its own submarine-launched ballistic missile in 2021, joining a small group of countries with such technology. However, negotiations to persuade Jong-un to forego his nuclear arsenal have failed repeatedly. Notably, Seoul has pursued an engagement policy with Pyongyang for the last five years under President Moon Jae-in. But for incoming president Suk-yeol, this "submissive" strategy has been a resounding failure.