Daily Update: June 6–North Korean Missile Launch

Early in the morning of June 8, North Korea launched a salvo of missiles from Wonson, off its Eastern Coast (The Korea Page). Pyongyang has constantly evoked such strategies to find a course of action which ensures technological advancement with minimal retaliatory actions from the international community. So what do we know about North Korea’s latest missile launch and how has the political situation moved since?

North Korea fired off several anti-ship cruise missiles from its east coast, all of which flew about 200km (Joongang Daily). The tests showcase North Korea’s technological capabilities in light of sanctions ostensibly limiting the cash and technology required for continued testing. The missiles were fired in the direction of the East Sea (Yonhap). President Moon conviened the Security Council in the hours following the test.

Domestically, motivations for the launch can be difficult to parse. The two most likely scenarios are 1) North Korea is protesting the recent protest of THAAD in Korea and new rounds of sanctions by the UNSC or 2) that North Korea is still trying to attempt to push the envelope to see what it can get away with. As of writing, North Korea has yet to release any communication regarding the test.

International responses to the test have been minimal with several leaders not yet responding to the test of writing. American Missile Defense Agency chief, Vice Admiral James Syring, showed concern on the North Korea issue, saying that America is not comfortably ahead of the issue (Yonhap). President Trump has yet to respond.

The test brings the political parlay over THAAD deployment right back to the forefront. Moon Jae-in, a long time THAAD opponent, has vehemently opposed the deployment since being elected. He has called it a hasty maneuver meant to be a fait accompli and accused the Defense Ministry of foregoing required environmental tests before the system became operational (NY Times). An aid to Moon said, “we are skeptical if the deployment was really urgent enough to pass over transparency and procedures required by law,” in a statement which highlighted the Blue House’s push to implement a long environmental survey despite the long time required to complete the test (Joongang Daily). The Barun and Liberty Korea Parties–the two main conservative parties–both released statements calling for the urgent deployment of THAAD (Yonhap). In light of today’s test, THAAD will remain a contentious issue which the Blue House is likely to stall as long as humanly possible.

The other item under scrutiny from North Korea is the recently adopted UNSCR 2356 which froze the travel of 14 individuals and the assets of 4 companies (UNSCR 2356). In an editorial in the state-run Rodong Shinmun, North Korea said the international community is “pressing this panic button,” and “desperate in their vicious attempts to put sanctions and pressure to bear upon against the DPRK” (Rodong Shinmun). North Korea has a storied history of opposing sanctions policy, citing, as in the above editoral, the size of America’s nuclear arsenal and military as evidence of the need for continued pursuit of nuclear weapons. “Whatever sanctions and pressure may follow, we will not flinch from the road to build up nuclear forces … and will move forward towards the final victory,” the Rodong team writes (Rodong Shinmun).[1]

As it stands, North Korea’s exact motivation is unknown, though based on the media attention towards sanctions policy, it is easily possible that today’s test was a protest of recent sanctions.

In South Korea, the test is winding through the typical process: Defense Ministry alerts the president/press, the Security Council is called to meet, and the press covers the updates as they come in. International leaders have remained quite, choosing to focus their attentions elsewhere for the time being.

Notes

[1] Rodong Shinmun is a state-run media outlet in North Korea is cited here to provide a North Korean mindset on recent sanctions policy. Any statement of fact or opinion in Rodong Shinmun must be read with proper context and attention to detail.

Breaking News: North Korea fires a Salvo of Missiles

South Korean media is reporting a launch of North Korean missiles early on the morning of June 8. The missiles apparently flew from Wonson and appear to be ballistic missiles. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported the launch immediately to Moon Jae-in (Yonhap*).

Updates to come in tonight’s Daily Update.

* Source is in Korean.

Breaking News: North Korea fires Missile

South Korean military is reporting a North Korean missile test, thigh details on the test are scarce. This is North Korea’s tenth test this year as it looks to push the limits of two newly elected presidents, Trump and Moon. Pyongyang is also likely testing the dynamic of the Korea-US under Moon and Trump.

This is breaking story and will be updated with more details tonight.

Breaking News: North Korea Tests a Missile

North Korea launched a missile about an hour ago, adding pressure to an already volitile situation on the peninsula. Yonhap is reporting that the projectile–it is currently unknown what type of missile was launched–flew 700 kilometers (Yonhap). The missile was launched near the city of Kusong.

South Korea’s newly minted president Moon Jae-in convened an emergency meeting of the security council following the launch. The military also released a statement saying it “is closely monitoring for proactive movements by North Korea and maintaining all readiness postures” (CNN). This response is typical for South Korea following a launch.

In terms of motivation, the launch is most likely a test of the Trump-Moon dynamic. President Trump has favored a more militaristic and tough approach while Moon favors engagement to denuclearize Pyongyang. This also ensures North Korea is issue number one in the alliance, possibly straining the relationship because of the different approaches.

North Korea also has been politically active.  On May 13, North Korea called for the UN to reconsider sanctions against the country (Yonhap).

Breaking News: North Korea Missile Test

North Korea conducted a missile test on Saturday, taking off from Pukchang, South Korean media reported. The missile, supposedly a Pukguksong scud, is the same missile which was tested on the 16th, and was the second failed test this month (Yonhap*).

The test comes as saber rattling has made he situation tense. In past week, THAAD made its way to Seongju, Trump called on Korea to pay $1 billion for the system and said withdrawal from the KORUS FTA is a possibility, North Korea released a cryptic propaganda video, and, earlier today, Rex Tillerson reiterated that all options are on the table but a diplomatic solution is favorable. Korea is also in the throngs of a election cycle which may drastically shift the political leanings of the Blue House.

So far their is no statements regarding the missile test. The UN is likely to condemn the test, as Trump will. Other nations will likely join in the condemnation. China is likely to continue a push for restraint while attempting to coax Pyongyang to give up its missile and nuclear programs.

Breaking News: Pence in Korea

American Vice President Mike Pence landed in Seoul on Sunday for a three-day visit. On Monday Pence will meet with Hwang Kyo-ahn, acting president of South Korea, and Chung Sye-kyun, current speaker of the National Assembly. On Tuesday, he will deliver a speech at an event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea. Following his speech, Pence will depart for Japan (Yonhap).

Pence is the highest official in the Trump administration to make a trip to Korea, following Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. North Korea is likely to be the topic of discussion, as Pence has to reinforce American interests in Korea, while also ameliorating fears that an American preemptive strike is likely. Pence most likely will push a policy of “maximum pressure and engagement.” According to reports by the Associated Press, “maximum pressure and engagement” is the policy the Trump administration settled on after a two-month review of North Korea policy (AP). Pence is also likely to push THAAD deployment to a shifting Korean political landscape.

The trip comes after a load of political headlines from North Korea ranging from missile tests, to parades and new missiles. Pence will have a difficult job, but not an insurmountable one.

(I will write a small piece on Pence’s trip to Korea later this week.)

Daily Update–April 7

South Korea

Politics–The Democratic Party is going to look into suspected irregularities in the People’s Party primaries. On April 4, Ahn Cheol-soo clinched the parties nomination, securing 75% of the overall vote (Korea Times). However, the People’s Party is mired in controversy over how it conducted business for its Gwangju and Busan primaries, for which Democratic Party Chairwoman Choi Min-ae has said that the irregularities will be dealt with in an appropriate manner (Yonhap). The investigation comes as presidential hopefuls hit the campaign trail in the run-up to May’s election (KBS World).

Economy–The Bank of Korea noted that household debt has grown while disposable income has stagnated in Korea over the las five years. In a report to the National Assembly, the bank reported a debt to disposable income ratio of 169%, well over the OECD average of 129% (Korea Times). Korea, up to 2015, has seen its ratio rise while other nations, such as the United States and Germany saw ratio drops in that same time period. Debt has long been an issue in South Korea, and recently the National Assembly has heard several reports on household debt.

North Korea

North Korea will be the topic of discussion at the Xi-Trump meeting at Mar-a-Lago this week. During their two-day summit, Xi and Trump agreed to increase cooperation in order to push Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program (Yonhap). Enhanced cooperation between China and America on North Korea can lead to more moves similar to China cutting off coal imports. However, the extent of enhanced cooperation has yet to be determined and Rex Tillerson, American Secretary of State, said no package agreement had been reached (Yonhap). And with Trump’s recent brief of options for North Korea–see below–China may be more reluctant to support a more militaristic solution.

North Korea was also making waves in other meetings. The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution today condemning the recent North Korean missile launch (Nikki Asian Review). In a press statement, the UNSC reiterated “the need to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula” (UNSC Press Release, April 6). The European Union went a step further. A day after the most recent missile launch, the EU expanded its sanctions on North Korea by expanding the industries in which Europeans are barred from engaging in. The new sanctions also prohibited computer services to North Korean people or entities (KBS World). Despite these measures representing an expanded approach, they are by no means going to shift the status-quo.

And finally, after a recent chemical weapons attack in Syria, North Korea sent a message to Bassar al-Assad celebrating 70 years since the creation of the ruling Ba’ath Party (Yonhap). In his message, Kim extolled the Ba’ath Party’s role in the revolution, saying, “Today the Party is resolutely struggling to courageously shatter the vicious challenge and aggressive moves of the hostile forces at home and abroad and defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity under the leadership of Bashar Al-Assad” (Rodung Shinmun). The move highlights the cooperation between Syria and North Korea. North Korea is suspected of building a nuclear reactor in Syria which the Israeli Airforce destroyed in 2007. Syria and North Korea also have a long history of diplomatic and militaristic engagement (Bechtol p. 280)[1].

President Trump has detailed options for solving the North Korean issue, of which many options require military solutions to varying degrees. The assessment presented to the president included three main courses of action. The first was rebasing nuclear weapons in South Korea. The second includes decapitation of the Kim regime–killing off the senior officials and Kim Jong-un in hopes a new regime would manifest itself. And the final solution included using special forces, such as South Korea’s Spartan 3000, to covertly eliminate North Korean missile and nuclear sites (NBC News). These options have support and dissent in Washington and Seoul. With North Korea’s continued provocations, however, the approval rating of militaristic actions is continuing to rise.

Notes:

[1] Bechtol, Bruce, “North Korea and Syria: Partners in Destruction,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis vol. 27 no. 3, September 2015, pp. 277-292.

[2] Due to amount of North Korea stories on today’s update, there is no Culture update for South Korea.