On September 13, 2023, North Korea conducted the launch of two ballistic missiles along its eastern coast, as reported by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Japanese Coast Guard. This incident occurred just hours before leader Kim Jong-un was scheduled to meet with President Vladimir Putin in Russia, marking the first such missile launch during Kim’s rare overseas trip.
Details regarding the size and range of the missiles were not immediately available. However, approximately five minutes after the initial launch warning, Japan’s Coast Guard confirmed that one of the missiles had fallen into the sea. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, announced that Japan had lodged a protest against North Korea through diplomatic channels in Beijing. Both missiles landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
It’s essential to note that North Korea’s missile launches, spanning from short-range to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), are in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and pose a threat to regional stability. These activities have drawn international condemnation, and previous resolutions with sanctions were passed with the support of China and Russia in 2017.
China and Russia have called for the easing of sanctions on North Korea, hoping to facilitate diplomatic negotiations and address humanitarian concerns. Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia marks a significant international engagement, especially given his limited overseas travel since taking power in 2011. While it remains unclear how he manages command and control of North Korea’s missile and nuclear forces during such trips, analysts have observed recent drills indicating a system for overseeing nuclear weapons similar to those employed by the United States and Russia.
In a March report, the 38 North programme, which monitors North Korea, outlined a process revealed through state media announcements. This process involves commanders of various units and sub-units, a launch approval system, and the presence of “technical and mechanical devices” governing the control of nuclear weapons within the country. These developments raise concerns about the stability and security of the Korean Peninsula and the broader implications for regional peace.