North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile once again on Tuesday morning following an earlier one on January 5. The successive launch of short-range missiles shortly after New Year’s day is very rare. The Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that the latest missile flew a distance of 700 kilometers (434 miles) at a maximum altitude of 60 kilometers over the East Sea at a speed of Mach 10. The missile poses a serious security threat to South Korea as it is not a general type of ballistic missiles but a hypersonic missile capable of maneuvering in the atmosphere to avoid interception. If the missile was tipped with nuclear warheads, it could be a gamechanger.
Despite such an imminent danger, the Moon Jae-in administration showed a timid reaction. Suh Hoon, director of the National Security Office, held an emergency meeting at the Blue House that morning, but only reiterated “strong regrets.” President Moon did not attend the meeting. When North Korea fired the same type of hypersonic missiles last Wednesday, he attended a groundbreaking ceremony for railway construction to connect Gangneung and Jejin in Gangwon Province, a southern section of the inter-Korean railway.
The military’s explanation was also incomprehensible. It brushed off the missile fired on Jan. 5, saying it was not a hypersonic missile. To prove the authenticity of its description, North Korea has fired an even more serious missile this time. Upon detecting signs of a launch, the Ministry of National Defense can track the trajectory of those missiles through Air Force radar and the Navy’s Aegis-equipped destroyers. Yet the government dismissed the missile threat. How can the people trust their armed forces under such circumstances? How is it different from the military’s methodical covering-up of sexual assaults in the barracks?
In sharp contrast to our government, the international community paid special heed to the launch by discussing the issue in a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday. The United Nations strictly bans North Korea from firing missiles using ballistic missile technology. In the meeting, six member countries, including the United States and UK, denounced the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang for trying to “expand its unlawful weapons capabilities.” South Korea did not attend the meeting.
North Korea’s missile provocations are nothing new. But the Moon administration has been hell bent on improving inter-Korean relations and arranging an end-of-war declaration with concerned parties over the past five years. The government must correct such a lax sense of security immediately. It must tell the truth about the missile launch and devise effective countermeasures before it is too late.