The United States Forces Korea (USFK) has provisionally concluded that the three projectiles launched by North Korea on May 4 and 9 were the same type of new short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM), and named them KN-23. However, the South Korean government and military repeated their previous stance Friday that South Korea and the United States are jointly analyzing the details of the projectiles and related data. Meanwhile, Seoul has decided to donate 8 million dollars to international agencies for aid projects in the North and allow a group of businesspeople to visit the shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex.
Still, the government is not actively denying the assessment that the projectiles were ballistic missiles, and they seem to acknowledge that the allies have already shared the result of the analysis. “It was not the official stance of the USFK,” National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong denied the report Friday. “South Korea and the U.S. are analyzing the details of what the projectiles were, and this is the official position of the allies.” His remarks point to the government’s intention to stress the final procedures of analyzing data, even if the projectiles appear to be ballistic missiles as of now.
The government’s drive to keep the improved inter-Korean relationship and the peace process alive may be the reason behind its reluctance. If the North’s projectiles are confirmed to be ballistic missiles, it would constitute a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, which ban the test launch of all types of ballistic missiles. Then Seoul would need to issue a warning with the military carrying out response actions. This is hardly a desirable scenario for the incumbent government, which has made continuous efforts to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table even by suggesting the provision of humanitarian aid.
Moreover, the Seoul government appears to be entrusting the United States with making a final judgement on the projectiles. Yet, the North’s ballistic missiles are a new type with enhanced accuracy and destructive power, and capable of carrying miniature warheads with the South in range. It is even hard to intercept the missiles since they can be directed at a target during a fall. While the United States may be able to write them off as short-range missiles, they are a direct, realistic threat to the South Korean people.
Therefore, we should not move on without clearly finding out what these projectiles were and how much of a threat it was. If the government tries to let it slide as if nothing had happened, it would only make the Kim Jong Un regime arrogant and encourage them to take a bolder action. The relationship between the two Koreas, even if it gets improved thanks to Seoul’s indulgence, would not last long. Abrupt behaviors against the rules should be criticized by the government, and the military should also maintain the preparedness. Only then will the government be able to normally develop the inter-Korean ties.