North Korea’s Antiship Missile Test Meant to Show It Can Repel Assault

American and Japanese warships in the sea between Japan and Korea on June 1. On Thursday, North Korea fired missiles into the sea, days after the ships left. (Kenneth Abbate/U.S. Navy, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Just days after a flotilla of American and Japanese warships left the sea between Japan and Korea, where they had been deployed in a show of force toward Pyongyang, North Korea tested missiles designed to hit such ships.

The launches Thursday morning of what appeared to be surface-to-ship cruise missiles were meant to demonstrate that the North could repel forces staging a strike on the Korean Peninsula, analysts said.

South Korea’s newly elected president, Moon Jae-in, convened his first national security meeting in Seoul on Thursday to discuss the latest missile tests, which were the fifth the North had conducted since he was elected last month, and the 10th this year.

“North Korea will only face further isolation from the international community and economic difficulties with its missile launches,” Mr. Moon said at the meeting, according to a statement released by the presidential Blue House.

The launches came less than a week after the United Nations Security Council expanded its sanctions against Pyongyang over previous missile tests.

They also came less than 24 hours after Mr. Moon’s administration said it had suspended the deployment of an American antimissile defense system — called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad — that is meant to detect North Korean missiles and prevent them from hitting their targets.

Critics had suggested that the suspension — which appeared to be a concession to China, whose leaders strongly objected to the Thaad system, and a break with the United States on policy toward North Korea — signaled that Mr. Moon was taking a much softer stance toward the North than his predecessors had.

Mr. Moon sought to dispel any such perception on Thursday. In his strongest language on the North since his inauguration, Mr. Moon told the National Security Council that his government “will not step back even one step or make compromises on national security or on the safety of our people.”

Some analysts say that with his decision to submit Thaad to a lengthy environmental review, as well as his recent approval of sending aid groups to visit North Korea, Mr. Moon is approaching North Korea as though its nuclear and missile development had not advanced in the decade since he last served in government. Mr. Moon was chief of staff to former President Roh Moo-hyun, a liberal who pursued a much more open policy toward the North than his conservative successors did.

“I understand the administration’s predicament,” said Duyeon Kim, a visiting senior fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum, a South Korean research institute. “It’s always a delicate balance between wanting to resolve things diplomatically and wanting to deal with North Korea the way it is today, as a growing security threat.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Motoko Rich and Jeyup S. Kwaak