North Korea Carries Out Multiple Provocations

Late last night between October 13 and 14, North Korea carried out multiple provocations. Between 10:30 p.m. and 12:20 a.m. KST, North Korea flew 10 warplanes close to the inter-Korean border, even approaching as close as three miles (five kilometers) to the no-fly zone that two Koreas agreed to in their 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement. From 1:20 a.m. KST, North Korea fired 130 rounds of artillery shells from its west coast. At 1:49 a.m. KST, the country launched a short-range ballistic missile toward the sea between Korea and Japan, which makes it the 27th missile testing event this year and the ninth test event in the past three weeks. From 2:57 a.m. KST, North Korea fired 40 rounds of shells off its east coast. These shells fell into the maritime buffer areas near the border in violation of the aforementioned inter-Korean military agreement. At 5:00 p.m. and 5:20 p.m. KST, North Korea again fired 80 and 200 rounds of shells off the east and west coast.

Q1: What is the significance of North Korea’s latest provocations?

A1: Yesterday’s provocations show new patterns in North Korea’s provocation tactics. First, North Korea is increasingly carrying out its provocations at night, which indicates that its military action can take place at any time of the day and night. Second, the attacks are orchestrated to take place on all fronts (water, land, and air) and one after the other. Third, from what used to be a single missile event, North Korea’s provocation seems to be evolving into a multiple (or hybrid) event using a mix of conventional weaponry and missiles.  

Q2: Why did North Korea take these military actions?

A2: They appear to be a reaction to the South Korea’s artillery exercises that took place yesterday. A spokesman for the General Staff of North Korea’s army said in a statement, “The south Korean army conducted an artillery fire for about 10 hours near the forward defense area of the KPA Fifth Corps on Oct. 13.” The statement also added, “The [North] Korean People’s Army sends a stern warning to the South Korean military inciting military tension in the front-line area with reckless action.”

North Korea’s official statement seems geared toward the leadership in China to justify its provocations ahead of the Chinese Party Congress. Nevertheless, all of these are intended to amplify the crisis level on the Korean peninsula (falling short of a nuclear test). North Korea is also using this as an opportunity to continue to test its missile capability and enhance its military readiness. 

Q3: How did South Korea respond?

A3: South Korea scrambled F-35A fighter jets. The country also announced unilateral sanctions against North Korea for the first time in five years—the first since the Yoon government took office in May 2022. This comes after the UN Security Council failed to impose additional sanctions on North Korea twice already. These South Korea measures are targeted at 15 individuals and 16 organizations, some of which had already been sanctioned by the U.S. government.

Q4: What’s likely to happen next?

A4: The two Koreas are trapped in a situation where both sides are compelled to respond to each other’s response. With the Chinese Party Congress starting October 16 and lasting for a week, North Korea may refrain from an ICBM or nuclear test that could heighten the regional tensions. There still is a possibility that North Korea could respond sooner to South Korea’s unilateral sanction with a minor military action. After the Party Congress, there are two upcoming events that can be more windows of opportunities for provocations. The first is the annual South Korean Hoguk military exercise, which is set to begin on Monday, October 17 and last until October 28. The latter half of this exercise falls in the post-Party Congress period. The second is the U.S. midterm elections on November 8, and North Korea has showed in the past a proclivity to cause trouble around U.S. election time.

Ellen Kim is deputy director and senior fellow of the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Andy Lim is an associate fellow with the Korea Chair at CSIS.

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Ellen Kim
Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Korea Chair
Andy Lim
Associate Fellow, Korea Chair