South Korea and the U.S. have sternly responded to North Korea's second launch of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile on July 28th.
Six hours after the launch, the allies conducted another round of combined ballistic missile drills early last Saturday in a show of firepower against North Korea.
Defense Minister Song Young-moo said that in addition to the two countries’ joint efforts for nuclear deterrence, South Korea will swiftly establish its own response system to North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Lee Sun-jin also held phone talks with his U.S. counterpart Gen. Joe Dunford to discuss potential military options.
Last Saturday, President Moon Jae-in gave orders for Seoul's independent sanctions on North Korea and the temporary installation of the remaining four launchers of the THAAD missile defense system. South Korea will also seek to revise bilateral missile guidelines with the U.S.
According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the latest missile was launched into the East Sea from the vicinity of Mupyong-ri in Jagang Province near the North Korea-China border at around 11:41 p.m. on July 28th. North Korean media said the missile reached a maximum altitude of 3,725 kilometers and flew a distance just short of one thousand kilometers for approximately 47 minutes.
If this is true, North Korean missiles are now theoretically capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. With a possible maximum range of over 10,000 kilometers, a missile launched from North Korea’s Wonsan could reach northeastern America.
Also drawing attention is the revision of missile guidelines with the U.S. which were last revised in 2012. Seoul and Washington plan to open talks aimed at allowing Seoul to load heavier warheads on ballistic missiles.
Current agreements permit South Korean missile warheads to weigh up to 500 kilograms for missiles with a range of 800 kilometers. The aim is to have this raised to one ton, while some are even calling for a two-ton limit.
A missile with a 500 kilo warhead can destroy an airstrip. Warheads double this weight are able to destroy targets 10 to 20 meters underground, which is about the depth of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s bunker.
South Korea's unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang are also under the spotlight.
Seoul announced its own sanctions on the North last December following the regime’s fifth nuclear test, which placed 79 North Korean individuals and 69 organizations on a financial sanctions list. These figures and entities have no transactions with South Korean financial firms nor have assets in the South, so this measure was purely symbolic.
Observers say that this time around, South Korea could enforce sanctions on Chinese or Russian firms.