South Korea’s Defense Ministry said on Monday that North Korea appeared to be planning another missile launch, possibly of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to show off its claimed ability to target the United States with nuclear weapons.
The South fired missiles into the sea on Monday to simulate an attack on North Korea’s main nuclear test site, a day after Pyongyang detonated its largest nuclear test explosion to date, drawing international condemnation.
Despite the heated rhetoric between Washington and the Kim Jong Un regime, CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports it is South Korea that faces the most dangerous, most direct threat from the North’s weapons, and the South responded to the sixth nuclear test quickly and fiercely.
In addition to the missile drill, Seoul said Monday that it would temporarily deploy four additional launchers of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system, once it finished an environmental impact assessment. That proclamation quickly highlighted the difficulties of unifying other nations around a response to the North Korean threat.
China and Russia strongly oppose the THAAD deployment in South Korea, with Beijing complaining that its powerful radar can probe deep into its territory, posing a security threat. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Monday that any further U.S. THAAD hardware placed in South Korea would force Moscow to, “raise the question about our reaction about our military balances.”
The THAAD systems are also controversial inside South Korea. With protesters trying to block their deployment over environmental concerns for years, South Korea’s new president was himself resistant to putting more of the anti-missile installations in the country. As Doane reports, Kim’s test of an even more powerful nuclear device seems to have eased those concerns.
The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Monday that Washington and Seoul were also discussing deploying an American aircraft carrier and strategic bombers to the region.
Chang Kyung-soo, an official with South Korea’s Defense Ministry, told lawmakers on Monday that Seoul was seeing preparations in the North for an ICBM test, but he didn’t provide details about how officials had reached that assessment. Chang also said the yield from the latest nuclear detonation appeared to be about 50 kilotons, which would mark a “significant increase” from North Korea’s past nuclear tests.
According to South Korean lawmakers, the country’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) informed them in a closed meeting that Pyongyang may carry out another ICBM test around the anniversary of the regime’s foundation on Saturday, or the anniversary of the establishment of the ruling political party, on October 10.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis warned the North on Sunday that, “Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam or our allies, will be met with a massive military response a response both effective and overwhelming.”
President Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster spoke with his South Korean counterpart on Monday, meanwhile; the third time the two have spoken since the North’s nuclear test.
South Korea’s presidential office said Chung Eui-yong, President Moon Jae-in’s national security director, spoke with McMaster for 30 minutes to discuss the latest updates on the two countries’ response to the North’s test and their future response.
The heated words from the United States and the military maneuvers in South Korea are becoming familiar responses to North Korea’s rapid, as-yet unchecked pursuit of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles that can strike the U.S.
The most recent, and perhaps most dramatic, advance came Sunday in an underground test of what leader Kim Jong Un’s government claimed was a hydrogen bomb, the North’s sixth nuclear test since 2006.