North Korea has conducted a banned missile test in response to US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to South Korea. “Two short-range ballistic missiles were fired into the sea off the North’s east coast,” the BBC reported, “in the third such breach of UN sanctions this week.”
The missile tests appear to have been a pointed message, aimed at the U.S. Undeterred, Kamala Harris toured the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North from South Korea. In effect, Harris became “the most senior Biden administration official to inspect the demarcation line during a four-day trip to Asia that has been dominated by Indo-Pacific security concerns,” the Washington Post reported.
On Harris’s visit to the DMZ, while she was standing just feet away from the North Korean border, North Korean soldiers looked from behind a curtain to get a better look at the US Vice President; the North Koreans don’t get too many visitors. Although, at the same spot three years earlier, “President Donald Trump became the first sitting American commander in chief to set foot in North Korea when he walked shoulder to shoulder with Kim Jong Un as the two leaders agreed to restart denuclearization negotiations,” the Washington Post reported. The two leaders spoke for 53 minutes and agreed to establish teams to continue working on the problem. Ultimately, Trump’s efforts failed. Progress dissipated. And North Korea resumed aggressively pursuing its nuclear missile program, straining the US-North Korean relationship.
Harris spoke this week of seeking a world in which “North Korea is no longer a threat.” North Korea is a “brutal dictatorship” that is “destabilizing the peace and security of this region,” Harris said. The US goal? “Complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Flouting Harris’s presence and rhetoric, North Korea “conducted ballistic missile tests just before and after Harris’s trip to the Korean Peninsula, and a day before Harris arrived in the region,” the Washington Post reported. Hardly coincidental, on Thursday, “about two hours after Harris took off from South Korea, the North test-fired two ballistic missiles.” The missile tests were North Korea’s first since June.
Harris’s visit isn’t the only thing putting North Korea on edge. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the peninsula in August, North Korea called the California Democrat “the worst destroyer of international peace and stability.” More concerning to North Korea than Nancy Pelosi: South Korea’s new president, the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol, is actively bolstering ties with the US in an effort to take a harder line against North Korea. “The strengthening of ties between the United States and South Korea was on display…during Harris’s trip to the DMZ,” the Washington Post reported.
Harris made a minor slip-up during her trip, as Fox News was quick to highlight. During a speech at the DMZ, Harris noted that the US has a “strong alliance” with “the Republic of North Korea.” Harris of course meant the Republic of Korea, which is South Korea’s formal name. Gaffes aside, Harris was clear in her rhetoric. “I cannot state enough that the commitment of the United States to the defense of the Republic of Korea is iron-clad and that we will do everything in our power to ensure that it has meaning in every way that the words suggest.”
To date, the strong rhetoric has failed to dissuade North Korea from pursuing its nuclear weapons program. The Hermit Kingdom is now claiming to test thermonuclear devices, which observers suspect have a yield in excess of 100 kilotons. The North Koreans have also developed a slew of capable missile platforms to deliver their nuclear weapons. Most concerning, the Hwasong-17 has a range beyond 15,000 kilometers, making the US a viable target for a North Korean missile strike. And apparently, North Korea is currently developing smaller, more transportable nuclear weapons.
Hopefully, cooler heads prevail before an escalation leads to a nuclear confrontation.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.