North Korea. Three new missile launches: a record year 2022
North Korea launched three new ballistic missiles this Saturday, at the end of a year 2022 marked by a record number of launches of this type and a spectacular rise in tensions with Seoul and Washington.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected « three short-range ballistic missiles launched by North Korea in the East Sea », the Korean name for the Sea of Japan, around 8 a.m. local time Saturday (Midnight). in France). Launched from Chunghwa County, south of Pyongyang, the projectiles traveled about 350 km before falling into the sea.
These new launches close a record year 2022, during which North Korea launched an unprecedented number of missiles and multiplied gestures of hostility towards its neighbors. In particular, it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in March for the first time in five years. Another North Korean ICBM fell off Japan in November.
Saturday’s launches come five days after a rare incursion by five North Korean drones into southern airspace, one of which reached north of the capital Seoul. Despite deploying fighter jets and attack helicopters for five hours, the South Korean military failed to intercept these drones, which drew widespread criticism.
The aerial incursion, the first of its kind in five years, was described as « intolerable » by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who promised to impress on North Korea that « provocations will always have harsh consequences” for her. On Thursday, the southern army carried out exercises in order to strengthen its anti-drone defense, according to the general staff.
Some analysts saw Saturday’s firing as a response to South Korea’s Defense Ministry’s announcement on Friday of a successful space launcher test as part of Seoul’s efforts to boost its reconnaissance and satellite monitoring.
“The purpose of North Korea’s missile launches today is to respond to Seoul’s solid propellant space launcher. Pyongyang seems to see this as a competition,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.
The new missile launches took place during the annual grand meeting of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, where leader Kim Jong Un and other senior officials outline their 2023 goals in key areas such as diplomacy, security and the economy.
The decisions taken at this meeting should be made public by the plan shortly after its closure. In previous years, Kim Jong Un used to give a speech on Jan. 1, but he recently swapped that tradition for announcements during the Party plenum.
Saturday’s three launches could be « a gift from Kim Jong Un to the people, marking the end of a record year for missile launches, and a salute to the plenum of the Workers’ Party of Korea », estimated at the AFP Ahn Chan-il, a researcher specializing in North Korea.
According to him, « Kim is trying to send a message that the people can feel safe, because their country is clearly a military power, even if it is suffering economically ».
Kim Jong Un said at the end of November that he wanted to endow his country with “the most powerful strategic force in the world”. Two months earlier, North Korea had adopted a new doctrine making its status as a nuclear power « irreversible », and authorizing it to carry out a preventive atomic strike in the event of an existential threat against its regime.
Seoul and Washington lend Pyongyang the intention of carrying out a new nuclear test soon, which would be the seventh in its history and the first since 2017.
North Korean leaders say a credible nuclear deterrent is essential to the survival of their country, which says it is under constant threat of aggression from the United States.
For their part, the United States, South Korea and Japan have strengthened their military cooperation and their joint maneuvers in the face of North Korean threats, especially since the announcement of the new Pyongyang doctrine.
But this reinforcement has further irritated North Korea which, through its Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, promised mid-November “fierce” reprisals if it continued.