SEUL, South Korea: A day after military drills between the United States and South Korea began, which Pyongyang views as an invasion rehearsal, North Korea reportedly test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles as a show of force on Tuesday, according to the country’s neighbors.
According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea, the missiles were launched from the coastal town of Jangyon in the country’s southwestern corner, flew over North Korea, and landed in the sea off North Korea’s eastern coast. The report also noted that the South Korean armed forces had improved their surveillance posture and remained on high alert in tandem with the United States.


No immediate reports of damage to Japanese waters have been received, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that officials were still gathering details of the North Korean launches.

Military drills between the United States and its allies are scheduled to last until March 23. In response, Pyongyang may conduct more weapons tests in the coming days. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a call to arms to his armed forces last week in preparation for a possible invasion by the United States or its allies.

Since North Korea has publicly threatened to use its nuclear-capable missiles against the United States and South Korea in any future conflicts, and has tested a barrage of missiles in the past year, concerns about the country’s nuclear program have increased dramatically.
It appears that North Korea is taking advantage of the current impasse in talks with the United States and the increasing scale of US-South Korean drills in order to strengthen its negotiating position in any future negotiations with the United States.

The United States has sought to strengthen its alliances with South Korea and Japan in response to the threats from North Korea and rising assertiveness from China. There are those who believe that a strengthened partnership between Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo could encourage Pyongyang, Beijing, and Moscow to forge their own trilateral ties. The United States and its allies have repeatedly tried to increase UN sanctions on North Korea, but these efforts have been blocked by China and Russia, who are involved in their own disputes with the United States.
On Monday, North Korea claimed to have successfully tested two submarine-launched cruise missiles. They claimed the latest test proved the country’s “nuclear war deterrence” stance and implied the cruise missiles were being designed to carry nuclear warheads.

It would be worrisome if North Korea acquired submarine-launched missile systems, as this would make launches harder to detect and give the North a second attack option in case of retaliation. For the heavily sanctioned nation to construct a fleet of submarines that could travel silently and reliably execute strikes, experts say it would take years, extensive resources, and major technological improvements.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Monday that the US was studying Sunday’s launches to assess what they meant about the North’s capabilities after its first test in 2016 and that North Korea had been refining its submarine-launch capabilities since then.

Sullivan stressed that the United States would take “whatever steps we deem necessary to safeguard stability on the Korean Peninsula,” regardless of what North Korea might do.

The joint US-South Korean exercises started on Monday and include both virtual and real-world exercises, with the former focusing on security scenarios and the latter on North Korean aggression. South Korean defense officials have stated that the upcoming field exercises will be on par with the allies’ largest springtime exercises, which were last held in 2018.

North Korea launched over 70 missiles in test launches in 2022, prompting an increase in military exercises between the two countries. They had both long-range missiles that could hit the continental United States and shorter ones that could hit South Korea, and both were armed with nuclear warheads.
The top nuclear envoys from South Korea and the United States spoke by phone on Monday, where they reiterated that North Korea would face unspecified consequences for its provocations. According to the Foreign Ministry of Seoul, these countries have also urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and focus on improving the living conditions of its citizens instead.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol is scheduled to meet with Kishida in Tokyo later this week, and they will likely discuss the threat posed by North Korea. After years of disputes stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula before the end of World War II, Seoul and Tokyo are planning a summit to demonstrate how a shared urgency over security is pushing them closer together.