North Korea Testing Biden as Well as Intercontinental Missiles

The North Korean threat is clearly an everyday reality to American forces in the region.

Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, file
Kim Jong-un in February. Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, file

SEOUL — North Korea’s test-firing today of a missile — the 10th this year — was carried out in the face of Yankee warplanes taking off from an aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea in a show of force intended as a warning against the North’s evident plan to test intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying a warhead to the American mainland. 

That the North’s latest missile launch exploded about 20 kilometers up in the air, less than a minute after liftoff, is not being taken here in Free Korea as a significant setback in the  program. In the development of strategic weapons, this kind of periodic failure is inevitable. 

This failure, though, may prove a special embarrassment to the regime for the simple reason that “multiple witnesses” in Pyongyang saw it happen, according to NK News, a website in Seoul that tracks North Korea.

NK News reports that “debris fell in or near Pyongyang,” adding that it has seen an image showing “a red-tinted ball of smoke at the end of a zig-sagging rocket launch trail in the sky” and “smaller trails” appearing “to extend straight down toward the ground.”

People “looked up to see the smoke or vapor formations,” according to NK News, and “loud ‘blowing’ sounds like that of “a large aircraft were audible,” and then “a loud ‘crash.”

The Carnegie Endowment’s Ankit Panda is quoted as saying the sights and sounds were consistent with a “catastrophic failure.” It’s unlikely, though, that the disaster will stop the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, from pressing ahead with his plans for launching an ICBM.

“They’ll keep doing it until they’ve reached their goal,” a Korea watcher who’s spent a career there as an Army officer and then a civilian official with the U.S. Forces Korea command, Steve Tharp, says.  The North Korean communists have successfully launched nine missiles this year, including three since taking a break during the Beijing Olympics. Mr. Tharp doubts Washington would do much to discourage more tests while focused on Russian advances in Ukraine.

“U.S. foreign policy only has so much bandwidth,” he says. 

Nonetheless, the North Korean threat is clearly an everyday reality to American forces in the region. The Seventh United States Fleet, from its headquarters in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, ordered the United States Ship Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, into the Yellow Sea between the Korean peninsula and Communist China, whose objections to a large American naval presence has discouraged our carriers from venturing into those waters in the past. 

The Navy’s announcement was blunt. “As a demonstration of our resolve and commitment to our regional allies, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command conducted a carrier-based air demonstration in the Yellow Sea,” it said. The Navy described what it said were the launches of ICBMs as “a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” — a reference to sanctions imposed by the UNSC — and said they “pose a threat to regional neighbors and the international community.” 

North Korea’s last test of an ICBM was in November 2017, but the Seventh Fleet communique suggested that missiles fired recently on orders of Mr. Kim were ICBMs even though they landed in waters between North Korea and Japan. North Korea has said these missiles were fired to test the gear for a satellite. Americans say the launch of a satellite is the same as that of an ICBM.

The exercise in the Yellow Sea, the Navy said, “made clear our growing concern over the significant increase in DPRK’s missile testing.” 

The Navy’s response to North Korean missile testing was coordinated with the U.S. Force Korea command, which announced almost simultaneously that it had “increased the intensity” of exercises of a Patriot missile unit in South Korea for one specific reason: “to demonstrate” the command’s “capabilities and commitment to defend” the Republic of Korea “against any threat or adversary.” 


Mr. Kirk, based in Seoul and Washington, has been covering Asia for decades for newspapers and magazines and is the author of books on Korea, the Vietnam War and the Philippines.

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