What is happening?
Throughout July, North Korea continued launching its ballistic missiles, which remain one of the most significant security threats to the Indo-Pacific region. North Korea’s test of a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-18 on July 12 was followed by the firing of two ballistic missiles on July 19, both of which landed in the Sea of Japan, outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong said that this was “just the start” of the country’s military offensive. Indeed, two other ballistic missiles were launched on July 24, marking the 14th time this year. There are more reasons explaining these July events, including the 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice.
What is the broader picture?
North Korea’s increasingly advanced missiles pose a growing challenge to the national defense of nearby countries. In April, one of the missiles managed to elude the radar of Japan’s Self-Defense Force, as it disappeared shortly after its launch. Due to the recent ballistic missile tests, the Japanese government issued a warning that Japan would shoot down any North Korean projectiles entering its territory.
The launch on July 19 took place just a day after the representatives of the United States and South Korea had met for the inaugural session of the Nuclear Consultative Group, after which South Korea’s Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo said that in the case of a nuclear attack carried out by North Korea, the US would quickly take overwhelming and decisive action that would bring an end to the North Korean leadership. His counterpart Kurt Campbell, the US National Security Council Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs, also said that a US nuclear submarine capable of carrying nuclear warheads was visiting South Korea’s Busan, where it then stayed for four days. According to the ROK Defense Ministry, this was the first visit of such a submarine in the last four decades. Another US nuclear submarine arrived in Jeju Island on July 24, followed by another two North Korean missiles being fired.
The Japanese government condemned North Korea’s missile launches which were a reaction to the abovementioned deterrence efforts of the US and South Korea. Tokyo also accused North Korea of violating UN Security Council resolutions and threatening the peace and security of the Indo-Pacific region and the whole international community.
There was one more reason for North Korea to demonstrate its military power last month. July 27 marked the 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice, which halted the three-year conflict with 2 to 3 million casualties. Since no peace treaty was ever signed, the Korean Peninsula is technically still at war. However, in North Korea, July 27 is a national holiday called the “Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War.” Delegations from Russia and China, North Korea’s main allies during the Korean War, attended this year’s celebrations. Latest developments thus show that even 70 years later, the power balance on both sides of the Korean Peninsula remains largely unchanged.