The South Korean government reported on Thursday night that North Korea had fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast—marking the country’s third missile test within five days amid rising tensions between Pyongyang, Seoul, and Washington.
“[The] South Korean military detected two short-range ballistic missiles fired from Sunchon, South Pyongan province, toward the east coast between 8:48 pm and 8:57 pm [Korea time],” a statement by the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff read. “Amid strengthened surveillance and vigilance, our military maintains full preparedness while working closely with the U.S.”
The launch was also confirmed by the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and Japan’s public NHK broadcaster indicated that the projectiles “appear[ed] to have fallen outside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone,” citing the country’s defense ministry.
North Korea’s most recent missile test occurred within hours of Vice President Kamala Harris’s departure from Korea, following a meeting with South Korean leader Yoon Suk-yeol and a short visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas. Prior to the most recent launch, Pyongyang fired two missiles on Wednesday, while the vice president was visiting Japan, and one missile on Sunday before her departure from Washington, D.C.
At her meeting with Yoon, Harris vowed that the United States maintained an “ironclad” commitment to South Korea’s defense and praised the alignment between the two countries with regard to North Korea’s nuclear and missile program. She indicated that the missile launches had been provocations intended to “destabilize the region,” and maintained that Washington and Seoul would continue to seek the “complete denuclearization” of Pyongyang, even after the country’s recent move to enshrine its nuclear capability into law.
“In the South, we see a thriving democracy,” Harris said. “In the North, we see a brutal dictatorship.”
The vice president’s visit to South Korea comes as U.S. and ROK forces are engaged in joint naval exercises involving the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier. The South Korean government also began trilateral anti-submarine drills alongside the United States and Japan on Friday—a rare show of cooperation between Tokyo and Seoul, both of which are key U.S. allies but have harbored lingering resentment over their different historical recollections of World War II.
South Korea’s intelligence agency has also reported that Pyongyang intends to hold a nuclear test—its first since 2017—in the coming weeks, likely on October 16 or 17.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.