These new shots close a record year 2022 in terms of launches. North Korea has multiplied in recent months the gestures of hostility towards its neighbors.
North Korea launched three new ballistic missiles on 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 had detected “three short-range ballistic missiles launched by North Korea in the East Seathe Korean name for the Sea of Japan, around 8 a.m. local time Saturday (2300 GMT Friday). Launched from Chunghwa County, south of Pyongyang, the projectiles traveled about 350 km before falling into the sea.
An unprecedented number of missiles
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, in March, an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) 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 of five north korean drones in 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.
This aerial incursion, the first of its kind in five years, has been described as “intolerableby South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who promised to impress upon 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 competitionYang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.
A large annual meeting of the Workers’ Party
The new missile launches took place during the major annual meeting of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, during which the leader Kim Jong Un and other senior dignitaries 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 January 1, but he recently swapped that tradition for announcements during the Party Plenum.
Saturday’s three shots 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“Ahn Chan-il, a researcher specializing in North Korea, told AFP. 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 though it is suffering economically“.