This is the second part of the digest on inter-Korean tensions, dedicated to the DPRK actions. See the previous article to learn what the United States and the Republic of Korea did during the same period.
Early in the morning on September 2, 2023, “a missile launch exercise was conducted to simulate a tactical nuclear attack to warn enemies of an actual nuclear war danger.” The launch came two days after the US and the ROK completed their 11-day Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise.
“Long-range strategic cruise missiles” equipped with mock-up tactical nuclear warheads were launched from the mouth of the River Chongchon, flew along an 8-shaped trajectory for a distance of 1,500 km for 7,672 to 7,681 seconds, detonated at a preset altitude of 150 meters above the target island, and thus accurately completed the nuclear attack task.
The ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff, in turn, called Pyongyang’s statement an “exaggeration,” pointing out that “not everything went so smoothly and successfully.” In particular, one of the missiles had disappeared from radars much earlier than KCNA reported. Moreover, the North, apparently, does not have accurate satellite and other GPS-type navigation systems.
On September 3, Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong-un was in charge of the local affairs of the Bukchung Engineering Association and an important military ammunition plant. This is a large shipbuilding enterprise and a dual-use plant. When at the plant, the head of state learnt the state of affairs at the enterprise, emphasizing its importance and significant role it plays in developing the North’s shipbuilding industry and its Navy.
On October 10, an article by Ri Song-jin, a researcher of the National Aerospace Technology Administration of the DPRK, was published on KCNA, titled “The US Space Force Deployment Aimed at Preemptive Aggression War,” criticizing the US plans for the militarization of space.
It emphasized that “the goal of the United States is to ensure military superiority over regional military powers, including our country, China and Russia, by further improving the ability to launch a preventive strike against the surrounding countries through outer space, and the ultimate goal is to implement its aggressive strategy of world domination by its armed forces.”
On October 12, the DPRK conducted artillery exercises. According to the South Korean military command, during the exercise 170 artillery shells were fired, which fell in the buffer zone north of the Northern Limit Line.
On September 13, 2023, in the absence of the head of state in the country, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) towards the Sea of Japan. It was North Korea’s 16th ballistic missile launch this year. The missiles were fired from Sunan Air Base near Pyongyang between 11:43 and 11:53 a.m., according to the ROK Armed Forces’ Joint Chiefs of Staff. Each missile flew about 650 kilometers before falling into the sea outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The previous launch of two North Korean short-range ballistic missiles took place on August 30.
On October 16, Secretary of the DPRK Mission to the UN Kim In Cheol, speaking in New York at a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, said that Pyongyang does not intend to give up nuclear weapons as long as the imperialists also have nuclear weapons. Also on October 16, North Korea condemned Japan’s move to speed up its planned acquisition of Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States as an “arrogant choice,” warning it would increase tensions in the region.
On October 17, 2023, Kim Gwan Myong, an official of the Institute of Disarmament and Peace of the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs, released an article on KCNA, titled “The US Claims to Nuclear Hegemony as a Source of Strategic Instability That Disrupts Global Peace.” According to the author, “the intention of the United States, which is tirelessly updating the missile defense system, is obvious. Its purpose is to strengthen the shield, guaranteeing safe throwing of the javelin.” In this context, “the United States is desperately resorting to the militarization of space, and is also investing astronomical amounts of money in the development of the latest laser weapons,” to counter which the DPRK is ready resort to its “strategy of suppressive and decisive response.” Commenting on the recent report of the Strategic Policy Commission of the US Congress, which talks about Pyongyang’s development of an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead, Kim Gwan Myung emphasized that it is the United States that is increasing the nuclear threat in the region. In his opinion, the United States is deliberately destabilizing the situation by providing its allies with the latest weapons.
On the same day, October 17, Kim Tong Myong, a researcher of the Society for International Politics Study in the DPRK, released an article titled “NATO’s nuclear war drills again highlight the US nature as a nuclear maniac,” dedicated to the Steadfast Noon exercises for dropping nuclear bombs, which “have been revealing their offensive nature and move towards the most dangerous level since last year.” Kim Tong Myong also criticized the deployment of strategic weapons on the Korean Peninsula. He noted that the United States is constantly deploying nuclear strike weapons on the Korean Peninsula, conducting both independent and joint exercises with allied countries to practice a preventive nuclear strike against the DPRK. All this leads to escalation of confrontation.
On November 3, North Korea criticized the United States for testing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), vowing to respond to “reckless” provocations with “swift, overwhelming and decisive counteraction.”
On November 6, the DPRK media reported that November 18 was designated as a holiday – Rocket Industry Day. This decision was made at a meeting of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the country.
On November 16, North Korea threatened to take more “prominent and strategic” military action after South Korea and the United States updated their joint deterrence strategies against the North during the annual defense chiefs’ talks. On this day, an official of the DPRK Ministry of Defense issued press statements entitled “Peace and Security on the Korean Peninsula Will Be Reliably Guaranteed by Our Revolutionary Armed Forces.” “The United States and its satellites are unilaterally increasing the level of military tension on the Korean Peninsula in words and deeds,” and an armed clash has not happened yet only because “the armed forces of the DPRK, with intense combat readiness, consistently restrain the military machinations of the United States and its satellites.”
On November 20, the deputy head of the Main Armament Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of the DPRK answered a question from a KCNA correspondent in connection with the supply of American weapons to Japan and the Republic of Korea, including 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles to Japan and 25 F-35 stealth fighter jets, 36 SM-6 ship-to-air missiles and 42 AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles – to South Korea. The author noted that the weapons transferred were offensive in nature, which confirms the desire to invade the North, but “the more the United States earns from the indiscriminate sale of weapons, the higher the price it will have to pay for the security crisis.”
On December 2, 2023, KCNA published an article by Kang Jin Song, an international affairs analyst of the DPRK, titled “Deployment of US Strategic Nuclear Assets Is Malignant Cause of Vicious Cycle of Escalating Tensions on Korean Peninsula.”
Having listed in detail all the cases of the appearance of US strategic assets in the region, the author pointed out that the “hottest spot in the world is by no means an abstract expression, and today the Korean Peninsula and the surrounding region are the most dangerous zone in the world, where actual military conditions have been created for the outbreak of the first thermonuclear war in history.” And if one breaks out, “the United States continuing to put pressure on the security of the DPRK with an increasing military threat and blackmail, will bear full responsibility for the catastrophic situation.”
On December 11, the central North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun criticized Seoul and Washington for holding joint military exercises. They were called “a needless act of provocation that will only hasten the destruction of the South.”
On December 14, North Korea “strongly condemned” the creation of a system for exchanging information on missile launches between the ROK, the United States and Japan in real time. An article in Rodong Sinmun said that the initiative was called a “military outrage” and “a dangerous, reckless move aimed at pushing the situation in the region into a phase of brutal confrontation.” It argues that there is a “sinister ulterior motive” behind this initiative to spark a war against the North and seize hegemony in the region. By subjugating the DPRK and neighboring countries, the United States intends to contain China and Russia in this way, the article says.
On December 17, an official of the DPRK Ministry of Defense released a press statement: “Any attempts by hostile forces to use nuclear weapons will be met with preventive and destructive countermeasures.” It criticized the second meeting of the “nuclear consultative group” that took place on December 15, which this author wrote about in his previous article. The idea of conducting exercises to practice a nuclear attack against Pyongyang was called “a frank declaration of nuclear confrontation, aimed at turning the use of nuclear weapons into an established fact in the event of war against the DPRK and testing the operational procedures for its implementation in a real war.” It again emphasized that, thanks to the United States and the ROK, “the security situation on the Korean Peninsula is in no way stabilized,” and the KPA will not sit idly by. “Any attempts by hostile forces to use military force against the DPRK will be met with preventive and destructive countermeasures.”
In a more practical response to the US plans, North Korea fired two missiles on December 17, 2023. First, a short-range missile was fired from a test site near Pyongyang, which flew 570 km before falling into the ocean.
And several hours later, on the night of December 18, the Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile was launched from the same site, flew for 73 minutes and during this time covered a distance of 1 thousand km at a maximum flight altitude of 6 thousand km. When launched on a normal trajectory, the ICBM can fly more than 15,000 km, thus “covering” the entire territory of the United States.
The information noise surrounding the launch has not yet ended, and therefore a separate article will be devoted to the situation with (hopefully) the last ICBM launch in 2023. The author would like to finish this article by drawing attention to the fact that although the statements of the North Korean military are full of invective and threatening rhetoric, their real contribution to increasing regional tension is significantly lower than that of the South.
Konstantin Asmolov, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Leading research fellow of the Center for Korean Studies at the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.