North Korea announced it has conducted submarine-launched cruise missile tests, days after its leader Kim Jong Un ordered his troops to prepare to repel its rivals’ “frantic war preparation moves.”
The test took place on Sunday, a day before the U.S. and South Korean militaries begin large-scale joint military drills that North Korea views as a rehearsal for invasion.
These exercises are set to be the largest ones organised in years. The South Korean-U.S. drills include a computer simulation called the Freedom Shield 23 and several combined field training exercises, collectively known as the Warrior Shield FTX.
The official Korean Central News Agency said Monday that the missile launches were meant to confirm the reliability of the weapons system and gauge underwater-to-surface offensive operations of the country’s submarine units. It also signals the country likely will conduct provocative weapons testing activities during the 11 days of exercises.
Coming off a record year in missile testing, North Korea’s weapons demonstrations this year include test launches of an intercontinental ballistic missile, short-range missiles and a purported long-range cruise missile system in recent weeks.
Experts say North Korea’s escalated testing and threats are meant to indicate an ability to conduct nuclear strikes in South Korea and against the U.S. mainland.
Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal is regarded by Kim as his best guarantee for survival and some analysts say he uses the military exercises as a pretext to test weapons and improve his county’s nuclear arsenal as a way to secure an upper hand in dealings with the United States. They add that by trying to force Washington to view North Korea as a nuclear power, Kim wants to negotiate badly needed economic concessions from a position of strength.
North Korea has been pushing hard for years to acquire the ability to fire nuclear-armed missiles from submarines, the next key piece in an arsenal that includes weapons with the potential range to reach the U.S. mainland.
Earlier Monday, South Korea’s military said it had detected the launch from a submarine in waters near the North’s eastern port city of Sinpo on Sunday.
North Korea sees regular South Korea-U.S. military exercises as a major security threat, though the allies say their drills are defensive.
On Monday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry also accused the United States and other Western countries of plotting to call a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss what it called its “non-existent human rights issue.” It said North Korea will take “the toughest counteraction against the most vicious hostile plots of the U.S. and its followers.”