December 4, 2022

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Analysis – Why is North Korea testing so many missiles? From Reuters

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©Reuters. People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea launching a ballistic missile off its east coast in Seoul, South Korea November 2, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – The hundreds of South Korean and American warplanes simulating attacks during exercises have most likely prompted North Korea to test a record number of missiles this week, experts say, but Pyongyang could also turn up the heat ahead of a nuclear test.

Analysts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un really doesn’t like the allied drills, and particularly the involvement of US stealth fighters.

“North Korea really doesn’t like these large combined air exercises, especially since they use F-35s, which can be used for decapitation strikes against the regime and are very difficult for North Korean air defenses to intercept,” said Mason Richey, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.

Just hours before 23 rockets of various types were launched into the sea on Wednesday – the most in one day – North Korea again condemned Vigilant Storm drills, in which some 240 South Korean and US warplanes fly around the clock.

The spate of missile launches and the prospect of a new nuclear test underscore the limited options Washington and its allies have to prevent Pyongyang from advancing its weapons programs, with the allies turning to major military exercises to “deter” war themselves as some current and former US officials say, they could add to tensions.

After North Korea conducted an apparent ICBM test on Thursday, allies announced they would extend last Friday’s Vigilant Storm.

North Korea also tests and demonstrates its weapons for other reasons, including technical advancement, propaganda value, exercising crew readiness and skills, and demonstrating that deterrence goes both ways, Richey said.


Analysts have said the F-35 leaves North Korea’s anti-aircraft and missile defense systems in a vulnerable position, with Pyongyang saying last year that South Korea’s and the United States’ deployment of the jets has forced it to develop new missiles to “completely destroy” such threats “.

After a series of missile tests last month, North Korea said it was simulating dumping tactical nuclear weapons on the South at targets like military bases and airports.

Takashi Kawakami, a professor at Takushoku University in Tokyo, noted that the United States has recently begun deploying offensive weapons forward, including rotations of F-22 stealth fighters in Okinawa, among other military movements.

“North Korea is striving to increase its deterrence capabilities,” he said.

This week’s military activity shows what the opening hours of a high-intensity war in the peninsula could entail, including large-scale Allied air operations and simultaneous salvos from multiple North Korean missile and artillery systems, Adam Mount, director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said on Twitter.

The simultaneous launch of short- and long-range missiles and other weapons is ominous because it indicates North Korea is pursuing plans to strike distant US targets during a conflict on the peninsula, he said.


North Korea began its record year of testing before the allies resumed major drills, and its reaction to the recent drills suggests it could be setting the stage for something bigger, some analysts have said.

“(The) launches were not the usual response to Allied exercises,” Mount said of Pyongyang’s unprecedented launch of 23 missiles on Wednesday. “These were calibrated escalation tensions. If North Korea chooses to conduct a nuclear test in a crisis, it is well on the way to making one.”

North Korea has completed all technical preparations for a nuclear test – its first since 2017 – according to South Korean and US officials.

Mount said Kim may choose to conduct a nuclear test amid heightened tensions for a number of reasons, including increasing the test’s impact, shaping how the United States and its allies perceive the test, diluting the international response, or supporting Pyongyang in calming China. Beijing doesn’t like nuclear tests on its doorstep, but has also accused Washington and Seoul of exacerbating the situation.

“In terms of politics and diplomacy, Kim is focused on urging the United States to withdraw its hostile policies ahead of its midterm elections, stressing to voters that the Biden administration’s North Korea policy has failed,” Yang Moo said -jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Kim also wants to bolster domestic support for his government during the economic hardship at home and show that he calls the shots on Korean Peninsula issues, Yang said.

“Kim would likely seek tacit recognition as a nuclear-armed state and negotiate nuclear disarmament with the United States by making North Korea’s denuclearization an unrealistic goal,” said Park Won-gon, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul .

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