Seoul, South Korea — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Friday in its first ballistic weapons launch in two weeks, as the US military warned North Korea that using nuclear weapons “will lead to the end of that regime”.
South Korea’s military detected two launches from North Korea’s eastern coastal Tongchon area around noon Friday, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The South Korean military has increased its surveillance posture and maintained readiness amid close coordination with the United States, they said.
The US Indian Ocean Command said the launches did not pose an immediate threat to the US or its allies but highlighted the “destabilizing impact” of nuclear weapons programs and North Korea’s illegal ballistic missile.
The consecutive launches, the North’s first ballistic missile test since October 14, came on the final day of South Korea’s annual 12-day “Hoguk” field drills, also involved an unspecified number of US troops this year. Next week, the South Korean and American air forces also plan to conduct a large-scale training.
North Korea views such regular drills by Seoul and Washington as operations to launch an attack on the North, even though allies say their drills are defensive in nature.
Next week’s “Storm Alert” air drills will take place from Monday to Friday and involve about 140 South Korean fighter jets and about 100 American planes. South Korea’s defense ministry said the planes included fighter jets as sophisticated as the F-35s from both countries, in a statement Friday.
Since late September, North Korea has launched a salvo of missiles into the sea in a simulated test of tactical nuclear weapons systems designed to hit South Korean and American targets. North Korea said its test operations were intended to provide a warning amid a series of military drills between South Korea and the United States. However, some experts say Pyongyang has also used its adversaries’ drills as an opportunity to test new weapons systems, bolster its nuclear capabilities and increase leverage in trade deals. translate the future with Washington and Seoul.
Tongchon, the launch site for Friday’s North Korean launch, is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the inter-Korean border. The area appears to be closer to South Korea than any other missile launch site North Korea has used so far this year.
South Korea and the United States have strongly warned that North Korea should not use nuclear weapons in advance.
The Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy Report released on Thursday stated that any North Korean nuclear strike against the United States or its allies and partners “would result in the demise of the United States.” end of that regime”.
“There is no scenario where the Kim regime could use nuclear weapons and survive,” the report said. The Pentagon said it would continue to deter North Korean attacks through a “forward posture,” including nuclear deterrence, integrated missile and air defense, and close coordination. and interoperability with Korea.
During a visit to Tokyo on Tuesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman reiterated that the United States will make full use of its military capabilities, “including nuclear,” to protect its South Korean allies. and Japan.
There are concerns that North Korea could strengthen its record in the coming weeks by conducting its first nuclear test since 2017.
Rafael Grossi, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Thursday that a new North Korean nuclear test explosion “would be yet another confirmation of a program that is moving forward steaming in an extreme way.” worrying period.”
He said the United Nations agency was observing preparations for a new test, which would be North Korea’s seventh, but gave no indication as to whether a nuclear explosion would occur. happening or not.
In recent days, North Korea has also fired hundreds of projectiles into buffer zones in the inter-Korean sea that the two Koreas set up in 2018 to reduce front-line military tensions. North Korea said the shelling was in response to South Korea’s live-fire drills in border areas.
On Monday, North Korea’s adversaries exchanged warnings along their disputed western maritime boundary, a scene of bloodshed and naval battles in the past, as they accused each other of violating the boundary.