July 13, 2023
VILNIUS, Lithuania/SEOUL – South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol condemned North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile launch and urged a stronger collective message from NATO in a summit held Wednesday in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Yoon decried the launch as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a threat to global peace, calling on the international community to stand firmly against such provocations.
Hours before the summit of NATO and its partners, North Korea launched the ICBM from Pyongyang toward the East Sea at around 10 a.m., South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The launch comes amid the country’s repeated threats of potential military actions in response to the United States’ routine aerial reconnaissance activities on the Korean Peninsula.
The missile reportedly flew for approximately 74 minutes, marking the longest duration recorded for North Korean missiles thus far.
“North Korea launched another ICBM today,” said Yoon, who attended the summit as a second-time observer, during his opening speech at the NATO summit. “This action constitutes a grave breach of UN Security Council resolutions and represents a major provocation against regional and global peace.”
“North Korea’s nuclear missiles pose a real threat, capable of striking not only Vilnius, but also Paris, Berlin and London,” Yoon said, calling for stronger unity in condemning North Korea’s actions.
Yoon was referring to NATO allies’ criticism of North Korea’s nuclear missile program in a joint statement, the first in five years, which was delivered at the summit. The statement sends a stern warning that the international community will no longer tolerate such illegal activities, he said.
The collective statement expressed firm condemnation for North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, which flagrantly disregard numerous UN Security Council Resolutions.
The communique stressed the imperative for North Korea to fully renounce its nuclear weapons, existing nuclear programs, other weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.
Yoon expressed his hope for continued close collaboration between South Korea and NATO in the future, aiming for the denuclearization of North Korea.
In his speech, Yoon also stated that South Korea plans to enhance mutual military information sharing with NATO, which would allow South Korea to exchange military intelligence with member states through existing Information Collection and Exploitation Systems.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg introduced the idea during his visit to Seoul earlier this year, where he met with Yoon.
It is anticipated that Korean military intelligence authorities will submit a membership application to the BICES Board. Once approved by the board and the NATO Council, a nation can become an official member. A senior official of the presidential office told The Korea Herald that the sharing of military information will be voluntary, not mandatory, among participating countries.
Prior to the summit, Yoon held a separate meeting with leaders from the Asia-Pacific region, which included Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
During the meeting, Yoon emphasized that the recent provocations by North Korea underscore the inseparable nature of Atlantic security and Pacific security. He called on the leaders to take on a proactive role in ensuring regional security within the Indo-Pacific area.
The three leaders, in unison, strongly denounced the early morning launch of the North Korean ICBM, according to the written statement released by the presidential office. They expressed their collective determination to firmly address such provocative actions that pose a threat to regional peace and global security.
The South Korean military has braced for the possibility of North Korea launching a newly-developed solid-fuel Hwasong-18 ICBM, The Korea Herald learned.
According to the presidential office, Yoon chaired an emergency meeting of the National Security Council via video conference in Vilnius immediately following the North’s missile launch.
The NSC members expressed strong condemnation of the North’s actions, highlighting the detrimental impact on the livelihoods of the North Korean people. They emphasized that as Kim Jong-un’s regime persists in reckless nuclear adventurism and neglects the well-being of its citizens, the future prospects for the country grow increasingly grim.
Yoon called for enhanced collaboration with the United States and Japan in the areas of real-time missile alert information sharing and conducting trilateral maritime missile defense drills.
The missile launch notably followed North Korea’s repeated warnings of possible military action in response to what they consider routine reconnaissance activities conducted by the US on the Korean Peninsula. The warnings were conveyed through three statements released on Monday and early Tuesday.
North Korea’s Ministry of National Defense on Monday sent a “serious warning to all the US’ dangerous and provocative military actions,” threatening that it cannot rule out a scenario of shooting down US spy aircraft flying over the East Sea.
Yang Uk, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies think tank in Seoul, assessed that the ICBM launch was intended to gain the upper hand over South Korea and the US.
North Korea sought to exploit the US‘ routine aerial reconnaissance activities as a justification to escalate tensions and conduct the missile launch, after the country’s failed launch of what it claimed to be a military reconnaissance satellite stultified itself.
“As North Korea finds itself in a disadvantageous strategic situation, North Korea has consecutively released a series of statements and tough rhetoric,” Yang said.
Yang noted that North Korea likely perceived a growing necessity to take military action given the upcoming inaugural meeting of the Nuclear Consultative Group — which is set for next Tuesday in Seoul — and the planned dispatch of the US Navy’s nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine to South Korea.
The NCG was launched in April to enhance the viability of extended deterrence, which is the US’ commitment to deter or respond to coercion and external attacks on US allies and partners with the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear weaponry.
Experts in Seoul also said the approaching of the 70th anniversary of signing the Korean Armistice Agreement on July 27 would also affect the North Korean leadership‘s calculations. Pyongyang has traditionally celebrated July 27 as the “Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War.”
“North Korea launched the missile, using the intrusion of reconnaissance aircraft into the EEZ as a pretext since it can no longer afford to portray itself as being dragged along in the lead-up to the Day of Victory in the War,” Yang added.
Yang Moo-jin, professor and president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said North Korea “appears to be executing its own strategic road map, which aims to assert its military leadership on the Korean Peninsula,” while gearing up for a large-scale military parade commemorating July 27.
The missile launch also notably occurred at a delicate moment, coinciding with the long-planned Trilateral Chief of Defense (Tri-CHOD) meeting in Hawaii on Tuesday, where General Kim Seung-kyum, the chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in attendance, along with his counterparts from the United States and Japan.
Wednesday’s ballistic missile launch is the first since June 15, when North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles towards the East Sea. The recent ICBM launch marks the first such instance since April 13, when North Korea carried out the inaugural test-firing of its new solid-fuel Hwasong-18 ICBM.