Update on missile exchanges between the two Koreas

The morning began with the shrill sound of an air raid warning for residents of the South Korean island of Ulleungdo, who then had to take refuge in bunkers. In question, the crossing by a North Korean ballistic missile of the maritime border between the two Koreas, in the midst of a military escalation. Who threw what? Why this renewed tension? How has the international community reacted to these new provocations? 20 minutes provides an update on these missile launches in the Korean peninsula.

South or North, which Korea fired first?

Pyongyang rose with belligerent intentions on Wednesday. First, North Korea launched four short-range ballistic missiles at 6:51 a.m. (10:51 p.m. in Paris), according to the South Korean military, then three more two hours later. It was during this second shot that a missile crashed into the sea, causing the alert in Ulleungdo. Ten more missiles were fired at 9:12 a.m., making a total of 17 ballistic missiles in less than three hours. The South Korean army also said that a missile had crashed in the sea just 57 kilometers from Sokcho, a South Korean city near the border, without indicating whether it was the same one who was responsible for the attack. air alert. That a short-range ballistic missile fell so close to South Korean territorial waters is a first since the end of the Korean War.

In response, South Korea fired three air-to-surface missiles near the sea border. But the North, determined to have the last word, responded by firing a hundred artillery fire from Kangwon province in the middle of lunch towards the “buffer zone” established in 2018. Before launching a new salvo of six missiles ground-air “in the direction of the East and the West”, specified the South Korean staff.

Where does this renewed tension come from?

We are not going to tell you the story of the Korean War, which ended in 1953 and has since been supposed to be over. The history of the two Koreas is full of rapprochements and tensions, but 2018 had been a year of hope. Joint team at the Olympic Games in women’s ice hockey, multiple meetings between leaders, joint declaration on the end of the war, establishment of the buffer zone and demining of the border on the southern side… In 2021, the two countries even announced the restoration of their communication channels.

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But since then, everything has gone wrong. In January 2022, Pyongyang launched several missiles, before testing an intercontinental ballistic missile at the end of March. The coming to power in Seoul of a conservative president, Yoon Suk-yeol, did not bode well for any appeasement from the South either.

For his part, Kim Jong-un continued to multiply the firing of missiles, raising concerns about nuclear tests. And to denounce the proximity between South Korea and the United States: while Seoul and Washington are currently organizing the largest joint air exercise in their history, dubbed “Watchful Storm”, Pyongyang described the exercises this Wednesday as aggressive and provocative, seeing it as a reference to Operation Desert Storm. These American-South Korean maneuvers actually arouse the anger of Pyongyang, which considers them to be general rehearsals for an invasion of its territory. Kim Jong-un uses this argument to defend his missile launches, calling them necessary “countermeasures” in the face of what he considers to be US aggression.

Are we at a turning point in relations between the two Koreas?

South Korea’s president called a meeting of the National Security Council over this week’s firing, deeming the crossing of the maritime line by a missile a “de facto territorial invasion”. He also ordered “swift and severe measures so that North Korea pays a high price for its provocations”. “All parties to this conflict must avoid taking any steps that could cause tensions to rise,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

But calls for calm may not last long. “As long as I can remember, North Korea has never carried out such a provocation when South Korea and the United States were carrying out joint maneuvers, described to AFP Park Won-gon, professor at the Ewha University. Pyongyang seems to have completed its most powerful (measure of) deterrence. It is a serious threat. The North also seems confident in its nuclear capabilities. »

Still, North Korea adopted a new doctrine in September, making its status as a nuclear power “irreversible”, and effectively ending negotiations around its illegal weapons programs. “North Korea is a pariah state,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told AFP. According to him, Pyongyang developed its weapons programs “in the first place because of the Kim regime’s aggressive intentions towards Seoul, and not because of what Washington does or does not do”.

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