News / Asia

S. Korea, US on Alert for Possible N. Korea Missile Launch

South Korean soldiers of an artillery unit take part in an artillery drill with 155mm Towed Howitzers as part of the annual joint military exercise
South Korean soldiers of an artillery unit take part in an artillery drill with 155mm Towed Howitzers as part of the annual joint military exercise "Foal Eagle" by the U.S. and South Korea, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which separates the two Korea,
There is growing concern in Northeast Asia that North Korea is about to conduct another provocative missile launch, possibly firing a number of rockets simultaneously.

South Korean and U.S. forces in the country have gone to a higher reconnaissance posture, just one notch below that of wartime.

The status change from Watch Condition (Watchcon) 3 to 2 comes amid indications of the presence of missiles on mobile launchers in North Korea.

Watchcon 2 denotes indications of a "vital threat." Domestic South Korean media say the change went into effect Wednesday.

North Korean Nuclear Tests

2006
  • Carried out underground at Punggye-ri
  • Powered by plutonium
  • Released radioactive materials

2009
  • Carried out underground at Punggye-ri
  • Seismic signals were consistent with a nuclear test
  • Radioactive material was not detected

2013
  • Carried out underground at Punggye-ri
  • Seismic signals were consistent with a nuclear test
  • Estimated to be more powerful than devices tested earlier
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, appearing before a legislative committee in Seoul, characterizes rival North Korea as ready to launch a medium-range Musudan ballistic missile.

Yun says intelligence obtained by South Korea and the United States has ascertained that “the possibility of a missile launch by North Korea is very high” and could occur “at any time from now.”

Yun describes the Musudan, which Pyongyang has never tested, as having a range of about 3,500 kilometers and “it is up to North Korea how far it would fly.”

South Korea's semi-official news agency, Yonhap, says that additional mobile launchers - possibly for other types of missiles -- have been spotted in South Hamgyong province on the east coast.

A top U.S. military officer, Admiral Samuel Locklear, earlier confirmed before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington that at least one medium-range ballistic missile had been moved to the east coast of North Korea.

Locklear, who heads the Pacific Command, says the U.S. military is able to intercept a ballistic missile fired by North Korea that would threaten U.S. bases or any of America's allies in the Pacific, including South Korea and Japan.

The committee's chairman, Senator Carl Levin, asked Locklear for details about a new joint counter-provocation plan with South Korea.

It outlines types of responses to limited military action by North Korea.

The admiral says he is hesitant to provide specifics during open testimony.

"I am supportive of the plan and I think it's a good one. And we will continue to revise it as time goes on," he said.

Senator Levin asked "But are you satisfied that we would be ready if there were such a limited military action from North Korea?"

 "I am satisfied that we're ready today, yes," Locklear responded.

Related video report by Luis Ramirez

US Pacific Command: US Ready to Respond to N. Korea Aggressioni
X
April 10, 2013 11:07 AM
North Korea’s warnings of a nuclear war and its call on foreigners to leave South Korea by Wednesday are raising concern among U.S. defense officials. They say the U.S. is ready to respond to any aggression against its South Korean ally. VOA Pentagon correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on how the crisis - the deepest in decades - has unfolded.


Mood in Seoul

Despite the increasing tension on the peninsula, the mood remains calm in the South Korean capital, Seoul, and the metropolitan area where more than 20 million people reside - nearly half the country's population.

The U.S. State Department says it is not advising its citizens to consider leaving nor is there any reason to avoid visiting the country.

North Korea on Tuesday suggested that foreigners in the South should depart because all-out war could break out at any time.

South Korea's presidential office says Pyongyang's attempt to create fear among foreigners will fail and it is merely psychological warfare.

The unusual advisory to expatriates in the South is the latest in a series of statements made by the North that have prompted international concern and condemnation.

Ceasefire renounced

After recent ballistic missile and nuclear tests, Pyongyang renounced the 1953 ceasefire agreement, vowed to conduct a preemptive nuclear strike on U.S. territory and declared a state of war between the North and South.

Despite all of this, military and intelligence sources say there are no indications North Korea has mobilized its army, which is one of the world's largest.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang is keeping 50,000 workers away from the only joint venture between the two Koreas, a factory complex at Kaesong.

Seoul Wednesday blamed the Reconnaissance General Bureau of the North Korean Army for a cyber attack last month that crippled 32,000 computers and servers at some South Korean broadcasters and banks.

South Korea's finance ministry is vowing to swiftly take stabilizing measures, should inter-Korean tension trigger strong volatility in stock or currency trading.

  • North Korean children hold up red scarves to be tied around their necks during an induction ceremony into the Korean Children's Union held at a stadium in Pyongyang, April 12, 2013.
  • Two military officers admire displays at a flower show featuring thousands of Kimilsungia flowers, named after the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, Pyongyang, April 12, 2013.
  • South Korean soldiers stand guard at an observation post near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas in Paju, north of Seoul April 11, 2013.
  • Female North Korean soldiers patrol along the banks of Yalu River, near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, April 11, 2013.
  • A North Korean man blocks his face with his hand from being photographed as he and other residents take a ferry in Yalu River, near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, April 11, 2013.
  • People take part in an oath-taking before the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang, April 10, 2013. (KCNA)
  • Anti-North Korean protesters release balloons with peace messages on the Grand Unification Bridge leading to the North near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, April 10, 2013.
  • South Koreans arrive with their belongings from North Korea's Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, April 9, 2013.
  • Visitors look at the industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea, through binoculars at Dora Observation Post in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, April 9, 2013.
  • A South Korean military vehicle passes by gates leading to the North Korean city of Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, April 8, 2013.
  • An elementary school teacher orders her students to leave as they watch South Korean housewives denounce annual South Korean-U.S. military exercises, near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, April 8, 2013.
  • South Korean army soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the border village of the Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, April 8, 2013.
  • North Korean military dogs run to a target with a portrait of South Korean Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin during a military drill, April 6, 2013. (KCNA)

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: KASIRIIVU JAMES from: MBARARA-UGANDA
April 11, 2013 1:57 PM
Let the World get serious this time after the North Korean Showdown. Who grants permission to countries if they are to test there Missiles? India tested a Nuclear capable Missile on the 6th of April, Pakistan did the same on the 9th but I hardly heard any criticism from neither the UN nor the United States even the media less reported on these two events yet both India and Pakistan are not signitories to the Non-proliferation treaty but when it comes to North Korea or Iran the whole World comes out in full force. To me International treaties are segregative if not interpreted wrongly

by: Robert Ezergailis from: Canada
April 10, 2013 12:39 PM
I wonder if the DPRK and Washington both realize that the idea of a "missile test" after open hostilities have been declared by the side in an ongoing conflict performing the alleged "test" is absolutely absurd. If I were a military commander in the field, on the South Korean or United States side, in that situation, I would feel obligated to destroy the missile immediately upon its initiation of definite launch, right on the launch pad if possible.

There is no way, whatsoever, that a nation that has declared open hostilities against another nation, can be allowed to successfully launch a weapon of destruction, against unknown targets with unknown intent, regardless of what that self proclaimed hostile power declares as to the actual intent. Such an act could easily be a short range attack on a real target making interception difficult or impossible minutes after launch.
In Response

by: Stephen Brigham from: Maryland, USA
April 11, 2013 10:05 AM
Totally agree. We won't know if its armed at launch time and should not guess. It should be intercepted immediately. That will send a strong message to N. Korea and our regional allies who depend on us for their protection.

by: NVO from: USa
April 10, 2013 10:59 AM
Let the MEDIA bring on the BRAINWASHING PROPAGANDA. ALL LIES, in other words.

by: NVO from: USA
April 10, 2013 10:36 AM
More MEDIA propaganda. The North cannot even build a car, let alone start a war. Please. But they can starve their own people.

by: NVO from: USA
April 10, 2013 10:04 AM
And the North Koreans are out of line threatening nuclear attack, and ending the peace treaty with South Korea

But given that the U.S. carried out preemptive war on Iraq, took out Libya’s Gaddafi, is in the process of taking out Syria’s leader, and has long branded North Korea as part of the “Axis of Evil” – and that North Korea has just undergone a transition of power and has a very young leader – many believe that North Korea is acting “mad dog crazy” to try to prevent an invasion by the U.S. … and that tensions will recede as soon as the annual American-South Korean war games are over.

Like the small dog that rushes up and bites the ankle of the big dog to scare him away – because he is terrified of a real fight – North Korea is bluffing.

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