All eyes on Korean Peninsula’s intensifying arms race

By Melissa Coade

Thursday September 16, 2021

North Korea fired two ballistic missiles from its east coast on Wednesday
North Korea fired two ballistic missiles from its east coast on Wednesday. (vchalup/Adobe)

North Korea fired two ballistic missiles from its east coast on Wednesday, as nuclear disarmament talks between the country and Washington stalled, and South Korea unveiled its new SLMBM capabilities.

The tests, launched from Yangdok, flew just shy of 800 kilometres and landed in the sea between North Korea and Japan. They were launched one day after a US special envoy urged North Korea to re-engage with nuclear disarmament talks.

According to The New York Times, US president Joe Biden’s administration is seeking ‘practical’ and ‘calibrated’ diplomacy options to achieve complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. But North Korea has not yet responded to offers to engage in dialogue.

“The United States has no hostile intent toward [North Korea]” Sung Kim, the Biden administration’s special envoy, said on Tuesday in Tokyo, where he met with representatives from Japan and South Korea to discuss the situation. Kim said Washington hoped that North Korea would ‘respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions’.

A statement issued by Japan’s Ministry of Defence said that it assumed the North Korean missiles had not reached the territorial waters or exclusive economic zone of Japan.

Just hours after North Korea’s missile launch on Wednesday, South Korea announced the country’s first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBMs) had been tested. As part of the reveal, the country disclosed that it developed a supersonic cruise missile and long-range air-to-land missile for mounting on the KF-21 supersonic fighter jet. South Korea now joins the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France and India as the seventh nation in the world to operate SLBMs.

On Monday Australian foreign minister Marise Payne and defence minister Peter Dutton participated in a 2+2 joint press conference in Seoul with South Korean minister of foreign affairs Chung Eui-yong and minister for national defence General Suh Wook, where the peers marked 60 years since diplomatic ties were forged between the two countries.

The meeting was an opportunity to ‘elevate the bilateral relationship to comprehensive strategic partnership’, Eui-yong said. On the agenda during the talks were Korean Peninsula issues, Australia and South Korea’s bi-lateral cooperation, the defence security partnership, and cooperation for regional and global issues concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We have have agreed for peace and prosperity in the region we need a complete denuclearisation and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and the two countries will support the resumption of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula and the two countries will proactively work together for the peace and stability in the region,” the South Korean foreign affairs minister said. 

Responding to a question about missile tests by North Korea of a newly developed long-range cruise missile over the weekend, Eui-yong said the situation was urgent and that Australia played an important role in consistently supporting the peace process of the Korean Peninsula.

“Australia is a very close ally to the Republic of South Korea and during this […] meeting we have agreed on the various issues with regard to North Korea and the Korea peace process. Going forward we will reinforce our partnership and cooperation for the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” Eui-yong said.

Payne said that permanent peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula could only be achieved through open dialogue, adding that Australia would continue to support enforcing UN Security Council sanctions, as well as apply its own, until North Korea demonstrated efforts towards ‘verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation’. 

Despite a series of United Nations Security Council Resolutions banning North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, the country has continued to press on with its efforts to improve its missile arsenal.

I don’t intend to speculate on what the intentions might have been with those launches,” Payne said of North Korea’s long range cruise missile launches of the weekend.

“But I would reiterate Australia’s consistent statements that have called on the DPRK to make a sustained commitment to talks with each of the Republic of Korea and with the United States.”

The last time North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test was in March, 2021. When the country began testing short-range ballistic missiles in 2019, then US president Donald Trump dismissed their threat on account of being short range.

The Australian foreign minister described her country’s relationship with South Korea as one forged between two ‘like-minded democracies’ that shared a similar outlook for a secure, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. Among the similarities between the two countries, she underscored Australia and South Korea’s advanced economies underpinned by free trade and the rule of law, and an alliance with the United States.

“Our strategic perspectives are complementary. Australia’s Indo-Pacific approach in the [Republic of Korea’s] new Southern Policy Plus both centred on upholding principles of openness, transparency and inclusivity,” Payne said.

“We support ASEAN centrality, ASEAN led architecture and the ASEAN outlook for the Indo-Pacific.”

On defence matters, Wook and Dutton said Australia and South Korea shared views on the current security environment in the Indo-Pacific, where traditional and non traditional security threats were increasing.

“Australia is a precious friend of Korea that fought together for the freedom and peace of Korea in the Korean War,” Wook said. 

“And Australia is also a strategic partner with which we are working together in all fronts based on common values.”

Dutton said the two nations were ‘natural defence partners’ and referenced key outcomes from the talks including building on military interoperability for Australia and South Korean forces, as well as strengthening the defence relationship.

“The initiatives we’ve agreed to today will further our joint efforts to maintain peace and stability in our region,” Dutton said.

“And whilst we face an increasingly uncertain and contested strategic environment, we face it together.”


Aus-US military partnership to enhance long-range precision fire capabilities

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