Analysis: North Korea fired dozens of missiles. What now?

Nov 2, 2022, 5:05 PM | Updated: Nov 4, 2022, 3:43 am
FILE - This photo provided on Oct. 10, 2022, by the North Korean government purports to show a miss...

FILE - This photo provided on Oct. 10, 2022, by the North Korean government purports to show a missile test at an undisclosed location in North Korea, as taken sometime between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — For days North Korean officials have raged over U.S.-South Korean military drills, promising a violent response. That response came this week, when the North fired nearly 30 missiles in the span of two days, including a short-range weapon that splashed down near the South Korean sea border and an intercontinental ballistic missile that forced Japan to issue an evacuation alert and halt trains.

It was a significant escalation in a year that has already seen the most North Korean missile test launches ever, and it raises an important question: How much further will they go?

North Korea’s playbook has traditionally been to continually ratchet up provocations until it gets U.S. attention — and can then negotiate for sanctions relief or other concessions from what it sees as a position of power.

The bar for getting attention these days may be higher, with the United States focused on upcoming elections and Russia and the West consumed by the war in Ukraine. That could mean the North has to do more to get the reaction it wants — but it also increases the possibility that Pyongyang could end up pushing South Korea too far. Already there is growing discussion in Seoul about creating an indigenous nuclear program.

North Korea observers have long sketched out the various levels Pyongyang uses to express its anger. At the bottom of the list is fiery rhetoric in state-controlled media. That may then progress into shorter-range missile launches of the type seen Wednesday.

After that would come longer-range tests, including ICBMs, like the one fired from the capital area of Pyongyang on Thursday, or intermediate-range missiles like the ones that the North has sent hurtling over the Japanese archipelago in the past, deep into the Pacific. At the top of the list is a test detonation of one of their nuclear devices.

Each new level cranks up already soaring tensions on the Korean Peninsula, where hundreds of thousands of troops from both sides and the United States square off along the world’s most heavily armed border.

And while bloodshed these days is fairly rare (2010, by contrast, saw 50 South Koreans killed in attacks), this many troops operating with these types of powerful weapons in a relatively confined geographic area increases the chances that a miscalculation could lead to a clash.

One of the 23 missiles fired Wednesday landed close enough to a South Korean island for air raid sirens to sound and residents there to evacuate to underground shelters. Another landed 26 kilometers (16 miles) from the Koreas’ shared border.

Anxiety was already running high because hours earlier North Korea threatened to use nuclear weapons so that the United States and South Korea would “pay the most horrible price in history.”

Initially assessing that the ICBM fired on Thursday would fly above its northern territory, Japan issued alerts to residents in the prefectures of Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata, instructing them to go inside firm buildings or underground. The country’s military later said it lost track of the missile above waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan and that there were no flyovers.

For months, South Korean and U.S. officials have been expecting North Korea to test a nuclear bomb. It would be the seventh such test, and be met with a push at the United Nations for even stronger sanctions. Whether Russia and China, nations that have traditionally protected the North, will allow further U.N. punishment is unclear.

It’s important to note that each North Korean weapons test — whether of the shortest range missile or a nuclear bomb — inches Pyongyang’s scientists closer to their ultimate goal of a fully functional nuclear arsenal capable of targeting every city on the U.S. mainland.

A recent analysis based on satellite imagery showed that the North has made dramatic progress on new construction at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

In addition to expanding its ability to send up satellite launch vehicles, the station could “support technology development also useable by North Korea’s emerging intercontinental ballistic missile programs,” wrote Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Victor Cha and Jennifer Jun, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.

The latest launches follow a string of North Korean tests of nuclear-capable missiles. And a new North Korean law authorizes the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in a broad range of situations, though there’s widespread doubt the North would use those bombs first in the face of U.S. and South Korean forces.

North Korea says it is responding to U.S.-South Korean military drills that it views as a rehearsal for an invasion.

But Pyongyang is also well aware of what’s happening in the world — especially as it relates to its rivals. U.S. President Joe Biden is preparing to travel to Asia for a series of summits, and is facing crucial midterm elections this month.

A lot is vying for Biden’s attention, but Pyongyang has also previously timed its weapons tests around American elections, presumably in the hopes of pushing itself higher on presidents’ foreign policy to-do lists.

There’s also the war in Ukraine, where Russia has suffered a series of setbacks recently. North Korea may realize that Moscow, which has been a supporter of the North and its military for decades, could benefit from the distraction the missile tests create for Washington.

And the barrage also comes as South Korea mourns the deaths of more than 150 people when a crowd of Halloween revelers surged — the country’s largest disaster in years.

But another North Korean nuclear test could also be a risk for the North itself, Jeffery Robertson, an associate professor of diplomatic studies at Yonsei University, wrote recently.

“Over the last thirty years, a rough balance has been established between South Korea’s vastly superior conventional capacity (and its alliance with the U.S.) and North Korea’s nascent nuclear weapons capacity,” he said.

But should South Korea pursue its own independent nuclear weapons capacity, “this balance ceases to exist.”

Don’t expect that to stop North Korea in the short term, though, as Pyongyang looks to use its full array of weapons to get what it wants.

___

Foster Klug, AP’s news director for the Koreas, Japan, Australia and the South Pacific, has covered North Korea — from Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang — since 2005.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              FILE - This photo provided by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits an opening ceremony for the Ryonpho greenhouse farm in South Hamgyong province, North Korea on Oct. 10, 2022. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - A TV screen shows a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. South Korea says it has issued an air raid alert for residents on an island off its eastern coast after North Korea fired a few missiles toward the sea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)
            
              FILE - This photo provided on Oct. 10, 2022, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a missile test in North Korea, as taken sometime between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - South Korean Air Force KF-16 fighters prepare to take off during a joint aerial drills called Vigilant Storm between U.S and South Korea, in Gunsan, South Korea, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP, File)
            
              FILE - South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, center, speaks during the National Security Council (NSC) meeting at the presidential office in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. Air raid sirens sounded in South Korea after the North fired about a dozen missiles in its direction Wednesday, at least one of them landing near the rivals' tense sea border. (South Korea Presidential Office via AP, File)
            
              FILE - This photo provided on Oct. 10, 2022, by the North Korean government purports to show a missile test at an undisclosed location in North Korea, as taken sometime between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Flags of South Korea and the United States flutter before a joint river-crossing drill between South Korea and the United States in Yeoju, South Korea on Oct. 19, 2022. North Korea's Foreign Ministry criticized the United States for expanding joint military exercises with South Korea that it claims are practice for a potential invasion and it warned Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022 of "more powerful follow-up measures" in response. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)
            
              In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects military exercises at an undisclosed location in North Korea, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
            
              FILE - This photo provided on Oct. 10, 2022, by the North Korean government purports to show a missile test at an undisclosed location in North Korea, as taken sometime between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

AP

Associated Press

Small plane caught in power lines after crash, passengers OK

GAITHERSBURG, Md. (AP) — A small plane carrying at least two people got stuck in live power lines Sunday evening in Maryland, causing widespread power outages in the surrounding county as officials tried to extricate the aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the single-engine plane, which had departed White Plains, N.Y., […]
18 hours ago
This combination of photos provided by the Chesapeake, Va., Police Department shows top row from le...
Associated Press

Walmart shooting claims teen, young woman, father, mother

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — A 16-year-old helping his family. A custodian and father of two. A mother with wedding plans. A happy-go-lucky guy. A longtime employee. That’s how friends and family described some of the six people killed at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, when a manager opened fire with a handgun before an employee […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. walks on the sideline during a NFL division...
Associated Press

NFL free agent Odell Beckham Jr. taken off plane in Miami

MIAMI (AP) — NFL free agent Odell Beckham Jr. was removed by police from an aircraft before takeoff at Miami International Airport after officials said he failed to respond to requests to buckle his seatbelt and appeared to be unconscious, police and airline officials said Sunday. “Fearing that Mr. Beckham was seriously ill, and that […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Chickens walk in a fenced pasture at an organic farm in Iowa on Oct. 21, 2015. Nebraska agri...
Associated Press

Bird flu prompts slaughter of 1.8M chickens in Nebraska

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska agriculture officials say another 1.8 million chickens must be killed after bird flu was found on a farm in the latest sign that the outbreak that has already prompted the slaughter of more than 50 million birds nationwide continues to spread. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture said Saturday that the […]
18 hours ago
This photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James in Centur...
Associated Press

Colorado shooting victim ‘wanted to save the family I found’

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A member of the U.S. Navy who was injured while helping prevent further harm during a shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado last weekend said Sunday that he “simply wanted to save the family that I found.” Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James made his first public comments on […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Director Quentin Tarantino, left, poses with Friars Club Dean Freddie Roman at the Quentin T...
Associated Press

Borscht Belt comedian Freddie Roman dies at age 85

Comedian Freddie Roman, the former dean of The Friars Club and a staple of the Catskills comedy scene, has died. He was 85. Roman died Saturday afternoon at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida, his booking agent and friend Alison Chaplin said Sunday. His daughter told the entertainment trade Deadline that he suffered a heart […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
Analysis: North Korea fired dozens of missiles. What now?