North Korea’s Missile Crossed the Northern Limit Line

On November 2, 2022, North Korea fired 25 missiles of various kinds off its east and west coasts. One of the short-range ballistic missiles was launched in the direction of South Korea’s Ulleung Island, triggering the air raid alert. That same missile landed 26 kilometers (16 miles) south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL)—a disputed maritime border between North and South Korea. According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, this is the first time that North Korea’s missile landed close to South Korea’s territorial waters since the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945. At 1:27 p.m. KST, North Korea also fired 100 artillery shells into South Korea’s maritime buffer zone, violating once again the September 19 inter-Korean agreement reached in 2019.

Q1: What is the significance of North Korea’s missile tests?

A1: The latest missile tests mark the largest number of missiles that North Korea has fired in a single day. One of the missiles was fired toward the south, a deliberate attempt to target the South Korean territorial waters for the first time. North Korea is also exhibiting risk-escalatory behavior by firing multiple missiles toward the east and west seas of the peninsula despite the presence of the U.S. and South Korean forces.

Amid the heightened tension in the region over the country’s likely seventh nuclear test, the 25 missile test launches by North Korea coincide with Operation Vigilant Storm (October 31–November 4), a joint military defense exercise that is designed to enhance readiness and deterrence on the peninsula involving more than 240 aircrafts and 1,600 sorties, the largest ever for this annual event. The missile testing came hours after Pak Jong-chon, North Korea’s top military official, who, in an issued statement, demanded the United States and South Korea to stop the Vigilant Storm exercises, calling it an “aggressive provocation” intended to “end the government” of North Korea. He also sternly warned that the U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) combined air exercises could invite “more powerful follow-up measures.”

Q2: How did the United States and South Korea respond?

A2: South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol strongly criticized North Korea’s belligerency, calling North Korea’s missile tests an “effective territorial encroachment” and ordered that “a stern response be swiftly taken so that North Korea’s provocation pays a clear price.” Hours after North Korea’s missile crossed southward of the NLL, the South Korean Air Force responded with three air-to-surface precision missile launches from F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets. These missiles landed north of the NLL, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.

On Tuesday yesterday, the United States dismissed North Korea’s claim, insisting that the joint exercise drill was defensive in nature and was not aimed to attack North Korea as Pyongyang claimed.

Q3: What will likely happen next?

A3: We expect to see more North Korean provocations in the days to come. CSIS data shows that North Korea responds belligerently to U.S.-ROK military exercises when there is no ongoing diplomacy taking place among the parties concerned. With the U.S. midterm elections less than a week away—November 8—the spate of North Korea’s missile tests could be followed by an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test or a nuclear test. In addition, as the United States and South Korea seek to enhance extended deterrence through their joint military exercises, North Korea’s multiple missile tests, combined with artillery firing or warplanes exercises, will likely become a new normal. This is certainly an ominous sign and will be discussed between the U.S. secretary of defense and South Korean defense minister when they meet at the 54th Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) this Thursday in Washington.

Ellen Kim is deputy director and senior fellow of the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

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Ellen Kim
Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Korea Chair