North Korea said on Monday, it had test-fired two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine. This happened as South Korea and the United States kicked off their largest joint military exercises in five years.
Nuclear-armed Pyongyang said the test verified its “nuclear war deterrence means in different spaces” as it slammed the drills — known as Freedom Shield. It will run for 10 days from Monday as part of the allies’ drive to counter North Korea’s growing threats.
“The two strategic cruise missiles precisely hit the preset target on the East Sea of Korea,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
North Korea is not technically banned from firing cruise missiles under current UN sanctions. Although, tests relating to its nuclear arsenal are not allowed.
The KCNA report said the test was linked to the United States and South Korea “getting evermore undisguised in their anti-DPRK military manoeuvres”, referring to the North by its official name.
The South Korean military said it had detected the launch of at least one unidentified missile from a North Korean submarine Sunday morning.
Photos and video released by North Korean state media showed the submarine, the “8.24 Yongung”, and a missile flying into the sky from the water, trailing white smoke and flames.
Analysts said “huge doubts” remain about how advanced the North’s submarine programme is.
Park Won-gon, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said the state media images suggested the missile was fired from above the water.
“Then there is no point in shooting from a submarine because there is no stealth,” Park told AFP.
“North Korea says the weapons are deployed, but whether we believe it with credibility is another matter.”
However, The Freedom Shield drills –
“involve wartime procedures to repel potential North Korean attacks and conduct a stabilisation campaign in the North”, the South Korean military has said.
Furthermore, it emphasised that the exercise was a “defensive one based on a combined operational plan”.
But North Korea views all such exercises as rehearsals for invasion. They have also repeatedly warned it would take “overwhelming” action in response.
“North Korea has been speaking in missiles against joint drills,” said Go Myong-hyun, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
“It wants to emphasise that the reason for developing missiles is for self-defence purposes.”
The foreign ministry in Pyongyang released a statement Monday slamming the United States over “the US vicious ‘human rights’ racket”. This is coming after Washington said it would hold a UN meeting this week on abuses in North Korea.
cc: Guardian Ng