It’s a well-regulated ritual: North Korea denounces the warlike maneuvers of the American imperialists and their South Korean “puppets”, then fires missiles at sea to impress Seoul and Washington.
Innovation, however, Sunday evening: it was from a submarine that she fired two cruise missiles, which flew about twenty-five minutes before hitting a target in the Sea of Japan, 1,500 km away. Diving fire, which protects the submarine from any response in a war situation, is the prerogative of a very small number of military powers. However, experts have expressed serious doubts about this new stealth capability. Park Won Gon, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said images released by the North Korean news agency suggest the missile was fired above the surface of the water.
This test took place against a backdrop of reinforced war rhetoric from Pyongyang, which fired a short-range ballistic missile on Thursday, according to the South Korean army. Other firings were carried out in February.
North Korea announced on Sunday morning that it was taking “significant practical measures” of deterrence, or in preparation for a “real war”, on the eve of the largest joint military exercises in four years between Seoul and Washington. These exercises Freedom Shield must last ten days. Seoul had suspended this kind of exercise in 2019 in order to improve relations with Pyongyang, without obvious success.
North Korea conducted 90 cruise, or ballistic, missile tests last year, up from eight in 2021 and four in 2020.
Allied exercises systematically provoke the anger of North Korea, which regards them as dress rehearsals for an invasion of its territory.
Nuclear power in the background
These tensions, very regular since the end of the Korean War in 1953, have taken place in a particular context since Pyongyang acquired the status of nuclear power, with in 2006 the underground explosion of an atomic bomb of equivalent power. one-fifteenth that of Hiroshima. Since then, Pyongyang has conducted five tests, the last of which, in 2017, with an estimated output of about ten times that of Hiroshima. Western intelligence services estimate that it has 20 to 30 nuclear warheads. In 2022, the North called its status as a nuclear power “irreversible” and conducted a record number of ballistic tests in violation of UN resolutions. Analysts have been expecting another North Korean nuclear test for months.
Washington has repeatedly reaffirmed its “unwavering” commitment to defending South Korea using “the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear.” However, South Korean politicians are making increasingly urgent calls for the constitution of a national nuclear arsenal in view of the threats coming from the north.