Both North and South Korea fired test ballistic missiles on Wednesday, Sept. 15, further escalating the arms race between the two nations that has been going on since the 1950s. The two North Korean missiles hit the water in the Sea of Japan exactly five minutes apart, with the first landing at 12:38 p.m. local time, according to the Japanese Coast Guard. Then, not even three hours later, South Korea fired their new submarine-launched ballistic missile. The military claimed that the missile “hit its target accurately.”
The launch comes just a few days after North Korea announced its new long-range ballistic missiles. According to DPRK military officials, the missiles successfully hit their targets 1500 kilometers (932 miles) away. These tests end the year-long missile hiatus that North Korea had taken shortly before the American election, and are the first North Korean missile launches to take place during the Biden presidency.
The South Korean missile launches are an attempt by South Korea to move away from their reliance on the US and their defense systems. As their Northern neighbors have been steadily ramping up their missile and nuclear programs, South Korea decided in May to sign an agreement with the US that no longer limits the range and payload of missiles that they send them. The DPRK took this as an act of aggression on the part of South Korea and the US. They vowed to “counter the US on the principle of strength for strength.”
North Korea has continued to test their missiles despite warnings from both the United States and the United Nations Security Council. Even North Korea’s closest ally, China, has expressed discomfort at the idea of a nuclearized North Korea. The United Nations has already imposed strict sanctions on the DPRK, following their continued refusal to adhere to international nuclear guidelines. Unfortunately, North Korea’s economy is almost entirely self-reliant, and China (the only nation they do business with) has said that they have no interest in further sanctioning North Korea at this time. If North Korea isn’t careful, the UN may come together to formally criticize their actions.
South of the border, South Korea has also been building up their military strength. The biggest development that came out of the latest missile test was the addition of a Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (abbreviated as SLBM) to their arsenal. This new missile makes South Korea only the seventh country in the world to possess such a weapon, and (predictably) further stirred tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang.
While things seem tense now, the decisions of the two governments and the actions of the UN in the coming months will determine how the situation on the Korean Peninsula will continue to evolve.