North Korea has conducted several ballistic missile tests in recent days, carrying out launches after the latest round of joint war games between the United States and South Korea. Tensions are rising on the peninsula as Vice President Kamala Harris prepares to visit the dematerialized zone (DMZ) later this week.
The USS Ronald Reagan arrived in South Korea for naval drills last Friday, becoming the first US aircraft carrier to sail Korean waters since 2018. The port call was part of a joint agreement by Washington and Seoul to increase military ties.
Pyongyang has repeatedly condemned growing security cooperation between the US and South Korea, seeing regular military exercises as rehearsals for an invasion. In anticipation of the joint naval maneuvers, North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Sunday, and later launched two more short-range munitions on Wednesday after the war games concluded.
The DPRK has conducted a record number of weapons tests in 2022 amid a shifting policy in Washington and Seoul. Under President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, both countries attempted to engage with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Diplomatic efforts by Trump and Moon led to rare meetings between high-level officials in all three nations, and ultimately netted a series of de-escalation measures, including a multi-year hiatus of North Korean missile tests and a brief pause on US-South Korean drills. The Joe Biden administration, in contrast, has largely put North Korea on the backburner, making few attempts at diplomacy while issuing a steady stream of threats and warnings.
The heightened military activity around the Koreas in recent days comes as VP Harris is set to visit Seoul as part of a multi-nation Pacific tour. In Japan, Harris condemned Sunday’s missile tests as a threat to “regional stability,” claiming that North Korea’s “illicit weapons program” violates “multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”
Harris also doubled down on the White House’s aggressive policies towards China and vowed to strengthen relations with Taiwan, insisting the United States “will continue to fly, sail and operate, undaunted and unafraid, wherever and whenever international law allows,” including in the disputed Taiwan Strait.