South Korea put on a tremendous show of military force in a set of live-fire drills on Monday, as South Korean intelligence reported signs of activity at North Korean launch sites, possibly indicating more provocative missile launches are coming soon.
South Korea’s military drill involved ballistic missiles and American-made F-15 fighters attacking targets chosen to simulate North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where the Communist regime conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sunday.
The South Korean military announced that both air- and ground-launched missiles fired during the exercise “accurately struck” their targets. The military also stated that more drills simulating attacks on North Korean missile launch sites are coming in the next few weeks.
Another significant result of North Korea’s nuclear test is that South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administration has approved full deployment of the American THAAD anti-missile system, signaling its readiness to install four more THAAD launchers as soon as possible. South Korea’s environmental ministry gave preliminary consent to the four new launcher sites on Monday.
The anti-missile system was a major point of contention during Moon’s election campaign to succeed impeached President Park Geun-hye, with the more dovish Moon expressing reservations about completing the deployment Park had authorized, and suspending installation soon after taking office. Moon has, to put it mildly, grown more “hawkish” during the string of North Korean provocations he has faced since taking office. He has also grown markedly less sensitive to Chinese and Russian complaints about THAAD’s powerful radar compromising their privacy.
South Korea has also asked the United States to deploy more naval assets and bombers to the region. Defense Minister Song Young-moo told the South Korean parliament that “views converged on strengthening the military standoff” during a national security meeting, which seems to spell the end for President Moon’s campaign platform of increased diplomatic and economic engagement with Pyongyang.
However, it is always possible these tough new measures could be canceled or reversed if China is able to bring North Korea to heel. At this point, it seems important to send a message to Beijing that everything it finds undesirable on the Korean Peninsula will likely come to pass, beginning with THAAD and possibly ending with the collapse of the Kim regime, unless it takes swift and unconditional action to control its deranged client state.
On the other hand, some analysts argue that China has waited too long, and it no longer has the power to stop dictator Kim Jong-un’s drive for nuclear missile technology. From this perspective, North Korea’s Sunday nuclear detonation was as much a message to China as it was to South Korea and the Western world.
South Korea is not the only regional power openly discussing military options against North Korea. The Associated Press reports that recent developments have accelerated Japan’s debate over developing aggressive pre-emptive strike capability, including air- and ground-based cruise missiles that could take out North Korean launch sites.
South Korean intelligence reports it has seen indications that North Korea will conduct more missile launches soon.
“We have continued to see signs of possibly more ballistic missile launches. We also forecast North Korea could fire an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Defense Ministry official Chang Kyung-soo said on Monday.
The BBC notes that North Korea likes to time its most provocative actions to coincide with national holidays, and it has two of them coming up soon: the anniversary of the founding of the Kim regime this coming Saturday, September 9, and the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea on October 10.