Japan, South Korea, and the United States have conducted a joint missile defense exercise aimed at countering North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal. The exercise took place in international waters off South Korea’s eastern coast and involved an Aegis destroyer from each country. The drills focused on mastering procedures for detecting, tracking, and sharing information on incoming North Korean ballistic missiles. The one-day naval exercise was aimed at improving response capabilities against ballistic missiles and strengthening the ability to conduct joint operations as North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats continue to escalate.
Last week, North Korea conducted one of its most provocative weapons demonstrations in years by flight-testing for the first time an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) powered by solid fuel. It is considered a more mobile, harder-to-detect weapon and could directly target the continental US. The two sets of exercises could trigger a belligerent response from Pyongyang, which views the US’s military drills with its Asian allies as invasion rehearsals.
South Korea and the US also launched separate bilateral drills on Monday involving some 110 warplanes, including advanced F-35 fighter jets, that will continue through April 28. North Korea’s unprecedented run of weapons tests has so far involved more than 100 missiles of various ranges fired into the sea since the start of 2022, as it attempts to build a nuclear arsenal that could threaten its neighbors and the US.
Experts say Kim wants to pressure the US into accepting North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power and hopes to negotiate an easing of sanctions from a position of strength. Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from engaging in any ballistic activities. But the council has failed to impose new sanctions on North Korea despite the series of ballistic missile tests it began early last year. China and Russia, which are both veto-wielding members, have opposed the sanctions.
North Korea’s growing nuclear threat has also led South Korea and Japan to increase their security cooperation and mend ties strained by history and trade disputes. On Monday, South Korea and Japan held their first security meeting of senior diplomats and defense officials following a five-year hiatus. During the meeting, Seoul and Tokyo discussed North Korea’s nuclear program and trilateral cooperation with the US, according to Seoul’s defense ministry.
In a statement, Japan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff stressed the need to strengthen trilateral cooperation as the “security environment surrounding Japan increasingly becomes severe” because of Pyongyang’s missile activities. Such issues have been worsened by pandemic-related border restrictions that disrupted trade with China, its main ally and economic lifeline.
Desperate for tangible economic achievements, Kim’s government has prioritized construction and agricultural projects, which are less dependent on external trade. Industrial production, meanwhile, remains decimated by international sanctions and COVID-linked border shutdowns. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Monday that Kim attended an event over the weekend celebrating the building of 10,000 new homes in a district of Pyongyang. The project is part of broader plans to supply 50,000 new homes to the capital under a five-year national development plan that runs through 2025.
During Sunday’s event, Kim called the housing project a “long-cherished plan” aimed at providing his people with “more stable and civilized living conditions,” the KCNA said. North Korea has a severe shortage of quality housing that deepened over decades of economic decay. But living conditions are much better in Pyongyang, where Kim has pushed huge development projects that upgraded housing for elites.