North Korea launched four ballistic missiles on Monday, March 6, only 22 days after the nation fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile known as Pukguksong-2 powered by solid fuel. The following day, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said that the nation carried out a ballistic rocket launch exercise, with a military unit tasked to strike U.S. bases in Japan attending. According to the report, the training was conducted to examine the handling of nuclear warheads and to inspect the Hwasong Strategic Unit’s swift operations capabilities. It was the first time that the North Korean media mentioned the handling of “nuclear warheads.” Here’s Yang Wook, senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, to explain.



North Korea’s short- and medium-range missiles such as the Scud-ER and the Rodong are aimed at striking U.S. bases in Japan. That is because U.S. reinforcements that could first be dispatched to the Korean Peninsula in case of war are mostly based in Japan. They include major forces of the Fifth Air Force, the Seventh Fleet and the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force. What North Korea is trying to say is that it staged an exercise for a strike on the U.S. bases in Japan through the Scud-ER missile with a nuclear warhead mounted on top.



North Korea fired the four missiles from its Dongchang-ri missile site in the northwest of the country at around 7:30 a.m. on March 6. They flew toward the East Sea, with three of them landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone and the other one falling into nearby waters. They all flew about 1,000 kilometers at an estimated altitude of 260 kilometers. Experts view the missiles as upgraded versions of Scud missiles.



I think North Korea tried to show off its striking capabilities through the missile test. The North has Scud-B missiles with a range of 330 kilometers and Scud-C missiles with a range of 500 kilometers. And the Scud-ER is an improved model that has a range of 1,000 kilometers. As the range of a missile becomes longer, the weight of the warhead mounted on it tends to be reduced. In this respect, it’s still doubtful whether North Korea is actually capable of making a nuclear warhead small and light enough to fit on the Scud-ER missile.



North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile on February 12, and it launched more ballistic missiles in less than a month. Carl Shuster, Hawaii Pacific University professor and former director of operations at the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, told CNN that North Korea has become quicker at doing the missile launch set up and also transporting them. Analysts admit that North Korea’s missile technology has advanced considerably. Early this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year’s speech that his nation was in the final stage of preparations to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile. Against this backdrop, there are rising concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.



North Korea is assumed to have secured the missile technology that is similar to that of the old Soviet Union from the 1970s and the ‘80s. It is hard to say whether North Korea has the latest or modern missiles. But it seems the nation can fully understand relevant technology and use it as it wants. In other words, it can produce various missiles for its own purposes. In this sense, we can say North Korea’s missile technology has progressed significantly. Pyongyang is believed to have moved beyond the stage of first-generation missiles such as the Scud and the Rodong and also passed the stage of intermediate-range Musudan missiles. It has now reached the phase of producing second-generation missiles like Pukguksong-1 and 2 that use solid fuel.



The entire world is strongly criticizing North Korea’s missile provocations. The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea’s ballistic missile launches and issued a press statement on Tuesday, local time. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the recent missile launch clearly shows North Korean threats have risen to a new level. On a similar note, U.S. State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said that the U.S. calls on all countries to use every available means of influence to show North Korea that there are consequences to its unlawful conduct. In the meantime, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuan said that Beijing is opposed to Pyongyang’s missile launches that violate the U.N. Security Council resolutions, while expressing concerns over the South Korea-U.S. combined military drills. North Korea’s recent missile firing is expected to worsen its relations with the U.S. and with China as well.



China has constantly felt the need to prevent the deployment of an American anti-missile system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD, in South Korea. For that purpose, China has put pressure on South Korea. Beijing has also been pressuring North Korea as well to discourage it from taking any provocative action. Despite China’s pressure, however, North Korea went ahead with missile provocations. It is very unlikely that their relations will improve anytime soon. But China could still use North Korea strategically, and Seoul should be aware of that. U.S. President Donald Trump has called North Korea “a big, big problem.” Following the series of North Korean provocations as well as the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the U.S. has probably been reminded once again that North Korea is a very dangerous country that disrupts stability in the international community.



At this time of year, during March and April, North Korea has made various provocations, including missile launches, in protest of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises between South Korea and the U.S. Since 2015, Pyongyang has focused on missile provocations, in particular, firing intermediate-range Musudan missiles, short-range Scud missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles several times. This year, too, tension is likely to continue lingering on the Korean Peninsula during the period of the South Korea-U.S. combined military drills.



[Interview] Defector Serves as President of Senior Citizens’ Center


At a senior citizens’ center in an apartment complex in Deok-yu Village in Bucheon, west of Seoul, a group of people are discussing ways to operate the center properly. The president of the center is Lee Geum-hwa, a North Korean defector who came to South Korea in 2004. She is the only North Korean newcomer who leads a community center for the elderly in South Korea.



When I first came to this center, members didn’t engage in any particular activities. But now, we deliver premade meals, clean the village and take part in various programs. Members are willing to cooperate, and I really appreciate their help. I work hard in the hopes of spending the rest of my life with these older people and taking great care of them until the day of unification. Even after I return home, I don’t feel tired at all. I’m happy to do my job here.



Lee says she was uncomfortable about the way people looked at her as a North Korean defector. She decided to become the leader of the center in order to show that a North Korean defector could do a very good job. She was selected as the president of the senior citizens’ center in 2011. After finishing her four-year term, she was reappointed to the post. So, she has been serving as the head of the center for six years. The 73-year-old Lee is one of the youngest members at the center. But even those who are much older than her treat her politely and praise her.



The president is doing her job very well. She takes the old ladies home and helps them have meals. She tries to treat them well and does everything for them.

She’s really good. She tries very hard, and that’s why people like her.

I really can’t complain. She always brings something for us to eat, and treats us well.



At the senior citizens’ center, members participate in a singing class, get medical checkups, receive Oriental medical treatment and join some outdoor activities like going on a picnic. The programs are not much different from those offered by other similar centers. But Lee prepares the meals herself and makes thorough preparations for the programs, which are attracting a lot of older people. Let’s hear from social worker Kim Su-gyeong at the Deok-yu Social Welfare Center.



Ms. Lee is a very active person. She takes part in a variety of programs provided by the welfare center, including cooking, delivering side dishes and even performing in a theater group. She is always ready to learn something and eager to develop her village in a positive way. She has many friends and she is very attached to the village. That’s why she is always happy to do her job. I often see her helping old women who have difficulty moving. She helps them wear clothes or shoes. I think she is a great president and an amazing person. Some North Korean defectors in the village rely on her as if she is their own mother. She is contributing to bringing people together and developing the village into their own community.



More than a hundred North Korean expats live in the apartment complex. So the welfare center offers various programs aimed at helping the newcomers resettle properly and live in harmony with other local residents. Sometimes, Lee makes North Korean food and shares it with the elderly at the senior citizens’ center. In this way, she connects North Korean defectors with South Korean citizens.



Older people here in South Korea didn’t know how to made North Korean dumplings or rice cake of songpyeon. I let them sit in a circle and made dumplings together. They liked the process of making dumplings and enjoyed the food. So we engaged in the same activity several more times. Now, some of the members can make North Korean dishes. I believe South and North Korea can achieve unification through food. That’s why I came up with this idea.



Thanks to Lee’s efforts and dedication, the center is always full of laughter. While singing and laughing together with senior citizens here, she finds herself missing her hometown in North Korea.



In North Korea, there are no centers for senior citizens. When people turn 60, they simply think that their days are numbered. People living in the same village do gather around occasionally, but only when it is necessary to hold a meeting. I hope I can live until Korea is unified. I want to return to my North Korean hometown and tell the residents there that I lived a wonderful life in South Korea.



Lee is creating a pleasant atmosphere and open communication at the senior citizens’ center. We hope this attractive woman will be able to continue with her enthusiastic activities even after unification in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.