South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said on Sunday that North Korea appeared to have fired two artillery rounds from multiple rocket launchers towards its west coast.
The two artillery hits were detected between around 6:21 p.m. and 6:37 p.m., the JCS said.
In the published announcement, the JCS said that “South Korea and the United States are working closely together and maintaining a thorough preparedness posture” while strengthening military surveillance and vigilance.
North Korea previously fired five shots from multiple rocket launchers toward its west coast from around 8:07 a.m. to 11:03 a.m. on June 12. At that time, the JCS made the same announcement it issued this time, but was accused of failing to detect the gunfire as the announcement came about 10 hours after the last artillery was launched .
The JCS normally did not publicly announce North Korea’s conventional artillery fire, which flies at close range with a low peak. Since June, however, the JCS has announced missile launches from the North of all types.
Seoul and Washington have yet to make a statement or comment on the artillery fire from the North. As the artillery fire appeared to be a casual military exercise, Pyongyang is unlikely to make any specific statements about them.
North Korea’s artillery fire is not a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, but its testing and development of nuclear and ballistic missiles is banned. UNSC members, except China and Russia, criticized Pyongyang when it violated the resolutions and called for the imposition of new sanctions to deter the development and testing of its ballistic missile programs in the course of the last few months. However, with China and Russia exercising their veto power in the UNSC as permanent members, Seoul and Washington are apparently preparing to impose their own sanctions on individuals and companies supporting the North’s missile development. However, it is debatable whether these sanctions could work.
With explicit signs that North Korea is preparing for its seventh nuclear test – including Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s stated ambition to further develop its nuclear programs – Seoul and Washington have reinvigorated their combined drills since taking office. of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in May. For example, six American F-35A fighter jets arrived in South Korea on July 5 to take part in joint military exercises which are scheduled to end on July 14. It was the first public deployment of the United States’ most advanced fighter to the Korean Peninsula since December 2017, when Seoul and Washington responded to the North’s sixth nuclear test.
Given the capabilities of the F-35 fighter jet, which can evade North Korean radars, North Korean state-controlled media have denounced the deployment of US military assets, in particular the F -35, in the region. North Korean media have warned military officials in Seoul that they do not know when and how the fuse of war will be ignited by their behavior. In this context, some say the two North artillery fires late Sunday night – an unusual time for a North Korean missile launch – were a response to the combined South Korea-US drills.
However, given North Korea’s unprecedented series of missile tests, including its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), this year, more advanced and more powerful missile programs should have been launched if Pyongyang had really intend to send messages to Seoul and Washington about their exercises with F-35 fighter jets.
Additionally, North Korea will hold summer military exercises this month, so more options were on Kim Jong Un’s table. Given Pyongyang’s attempts to directly confront Washington in the power game in region, the relatively minor artillery fire should not be seen as a response to the combined South Korea-US drills.
It’s safe to say that artillery fire is only part of North Korea’s summer military training. However, if we are looking for a triggering event, rather than the American F-35 fighter jets, there was something else that North Korea may have observed.
Pyongyang’s artillery fire on Sunday came hours after the arrival in Seoul of the new US ambassador to South Korea, Philip Goldberg. The belated appointment of Goldberg by US President Joe Biden as ambassador – it took 18 months to fill the vacancy – gave the impression to the South Korean public that the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is not a political priority for Washington. Moreover, as Goldberg was the main coordinator involved in the implementation of UN sanctions against North Korea during the Obama administration, his appointment is seen by many as confirmation that the Biden administration’s policy on North Korea is an updated version of Obama administration policy. “strategic patience” approach.
In this context, if there was a hidden message in the unusually late hour of artillery fire, the arrival of Goldberg, and not the American F-35 fighter jets, could have been the object. Pyongyang may want to send a message to the new US ambassador, given its tough stance on imposing sanctions on North Korea.