South Korea braced for a possible North Korean missile or a nuclear weapons test as soon as today as a top American military commander said the totalitarian state has moved at least one projectile to its eastern coast.
South Korean and U.S. forces upgraded their joint surveillance “Watchcon” status by one level to monitor an imminent ballistic missile test, Yonhap reported, citing unidentified military officials. Japan deployed missile interceptors around the country as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government vowed to protect its citizens.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of U.S. Pacific Command, confirmed yesterday to Congress that North Korea moved at least one of its medium-range Musudan missiles to its eastern coast. Efforts by Kim Jong Un’s regime to build and test weapons of mass destruction “represent a clear and direct threat to U.S. national security and regional peace and stability,” he said.
Kim’s regime has threatened to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against its enemies, and this week pulled workers from a joint industrial complex with South Korea. Tensions have risen since North Korea’s February atomic weapons test in defiance of tightened United Nations sanctions that were backed by China, its closest ally and biggest trading partner.
Kim’s conduct is an attempt to gain attention and concessions for his impoverished state rather than a sign that war is imminent, according to Huh Moon Young, an analyst at state-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
“North Korea is not looking to self-destruct,” Huh said. “It’s trying to raise an issue with the international community and also grab the U.S. and China’s attention in a highly calculated manner.”
South Korea’s national security chief Kim Jang Soo said April 7 that North Korea may stage a provocation, such as firing a projectile, around April 10. The North has been ready for a fourth underground atomic weapons test at its Punggye-ri site since conducting its third on Feb. 12, according to South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok.
The Musudan missile has a range of 3,000 miles (4,827 kilometers) to 3,500 miles -- enough to be a potential threat to Guam, though not to Hawaii or the U.S. mainland, Locklear said at yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Locklear said Kim, who became the third-generation head of North Korea in December 2011 is “more unpredictable” than his late father and grandfather. Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung always figured into their “provocation cycle an off-ramp of how to get out of it. And it’s not clear to me that he has thought through how to get out of it,” he said.
© Copyright 2016 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.