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[Editorial] Tighten guard

Military discloses NK’s new missile tests after North’s announcement

North Korea on Sunday announced that it had successfully test-fired two “new-type tactical guided weapons.” It did not disclose the date of the launch, but South Korea’s military presumes the launch occurred at around 6 p.m. Saturday.

The military disclosed the provocation after the North announced them in the morning of the following day. The disclosure came 13 hours after the tests.

With the military criticized for its belated disclosure, Cheong Wa Dae said that it had held an emergency meeting Saturday and then convened a National Security Council meeting Sunday.

People have a right to know quickly about threats to national security. The military had previously informed media of the North’s missile tests almost immediately. Regarding the latest provocation, it said that analysis took time, but it is questionable if the military did not take North Korea’s weapon tests seriously.

The launch came a day after the Day of the Sun, the birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un. It is the most important national holiday of the country. The North was expected to carry out a certain provocation such as a missile test around the day. It was a period when South Korea’s military should have been watching the North more carefully than ever. The recent test was North Korea’s 13th military provocation of this year and came 23 days after it test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile on March 24.

The latest weapon is highly threatening to South Korea. The missiles were reportedly fired from a transporter-erector-launcher. Experts are concerned that it would not be easy for South Korea to respond with its current missile defense system.

Furthermore, the North says the weapon was designed to boost its nuclear fighting capability.

The projectiles flew about 110 kilometers with an apogee of 25 km. The new weapons are presumed to be short-range ballistic missiles. Unlike ICBMs, they target South Korea.

If the North mounts nuclear warheads on the new missiles and deploys them near the border, the whole of South Korea would come within the range of the North’s tactical nuclear weapons.

The recent test was made in the same vein as the threat by Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of the North Korean leader. On April 5, she said North Korea would use nuclear weapons to strike South Korea if it were attacked.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the recent launch is a harbinger of the North’s seventh atomic weapons test. 38 North, a US-based website dedicated to analyzing satellite images taken above North Korea, said Thursday that North Korea seems to have continued work to restore tunnel No. 3 of Punggye-ri nuclear test sites to operational status.

If Pyongyang had not announced the weapon test and if the South failed to assess the weapon correctly, a hole could have formed in the nation’s defenses.

The NSC meeting was presided over by Suh Hoon, director of the National Security Office. President Moon Jae-in did not attend the NSC meeting. He is said to have instructed “a thorough management of the situation.” The instruction sounds like a meaningless formality.

Given North Korea’s growing nuclear threat to the South, he should have presided over the meeting and expressed his will to respond strongly to the provocation.

A day after President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol announced a plan to move the presidential office to Yongsan, Moon presided over an NSC meeting on the plan and opposed it, citing a gap in security.

However, Moon was absent from the NSC meeting on North Korea’s new-type missiles that could blow up large cities in the South. It is questionable if he is really concerned about security gaps. Cheong Wa Dae, the military authorities, and the presidential transition committee all must remain vigilant against North Korea’s provocations to prevent them.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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