The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff announced Saturday that North Korea had fired “missiles,” and 40 minutes later changed the announcement, calling them “short-range projectiles.”
The National Intelligence Service told lawmakers that it did not view them as missiles and that their launches were not provocation.
A spokesperson of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea said that the projectiles were not presumed to be ballistic missiles.
A day later, however, North Korea disclosed photos showing putative ballistic missiles blasting off. Obviously, they look like missile launches.
On Sunday, the Ministry of National Defense changed the term of the projectiles to “new tactical guided weapons.” The ministry took down what the North had said. North Korean state media termed them as “new tactical guided weapons” when disclosing related photos.
Whenever North Korea provoked, Cheong Wa Dae would convene the National Security Council, but did not this time. It held a downgraded meeting of related ministers.
Missile launch is a violation of inter-Korean military agreement under which South and North Korea should suspend all hostile activities against each other on the ground, at sea and in the air.
To observe this agreement, the South Korean military gave up aerial reconnaissance near the military demarcation line and stopped artillery exercises needed to protect western islands near the border with the North.
South Korea has suspended or abolished joint military exercises with the US under the pretext of reviving dialogue and improving its relations with the North. Then, North Korea test-fired missiles and multiple rockets which can hit the South.
Nonetheless, the Moon administration and the ruling party tried to downplay the provocation, saying what it fired were not missiles. If North Korea had fired ballistic missiles, it violated UN Security Council sanctions.
Military experts view the new tactical guided weapons as short-range ballistic missiles similar to Russian-made Iskander missiles.
If the projectiles in question are an improved version of the Russian missiles, they will be a deadly threat to South Korea. South Korea may have to overhaul its missile defense system. This is a grave problem.
And yet, the South Korean military authorities first said one thing about the missiles then another. The government is anxious to cover for the North.
What if the projectile launches had been a real situation? They could not have reached the US, but they could hit South Korea if they were fired in a different direction. It is risky and foolish for the government to cry out for peace and dialogue while letting its guard down in this situation.
It is impossible to denuclearize North Korea only by appeasing its regime. South Korea can never achieve peace by crumbling its defense and halting its military drills. It is a dangerous illusion. Dialogue is dialogue and defense is defense. Now is time to build up defense.
On the scene of the test fire of the new tactical guided weapons, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said: “Keep in mind that true peace and security will be guaranteed only by strong power.” Is this what South Koreans should hear from their president?
North Korea may have provoked to start the stalled negotiations on denuclearization and sanctions relief. But the provocation threw a wet blanket over a mood for dialogue. Pyongyang must keep in mind it can get nothing from provocative acts. If North Korea wants to revive its economy, it ought to engage in talks sincerely and keep its promise to denuclearize.
North Korea is in a dire food situation. It reportedly needs 1.36 million metric tons of food aid from outside. South Korea and the US considered food aid to North Korea positively. It should not have dared carry out a military provocation in that situation.
South Korea and the US must not be seen to compensate North Korea for its provocative behavior. Stephen Biegun, US special representative for North Korea, is scheduled to visit South Korea Thursday. Both countries must work out resolute responses to prevent North Korea from conducting military provocations any more.