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North Korea’s Military Demonstration: Strategic Cruise Missile Test Amid US-South Korea Drills.

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Written by Raphaël Degraeve

Edited by Stef Clement

Supervised by Paul Dybjer

On 21 August, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw a test-firing of strategic cruise missiles from a navy ship, as the state media agency Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. This event coincided with the annual joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea (Reuters, 2023). Known as the ‘Ulchi Freedom Shield’, these drills are primarily computer-simulated command post exercises designed to enhance coordination and readiness in responding to potential security threats (Kim, 2023).

The combination of the terms ‘strategic’ and ‘weapons’ suggest the potential capability of the North Korean missiles to carry nuclear warheads (DW, 2023). Although the exact type of missiles fired was not explicitly mentioned in the KCNA report, accompanying images depicted what appeared to be a Hwasal-2 cruise missiles (Pyongyang Times, 2023). Pyongyang tested this missile, which has a range between 1,500 and 2,000 kilometres, in February and March. These tests raise concerns about North Korea’s capabilities and potential threat to neighbouring countries (Johnson, 2023). The test’s timing is noteworthy, given that it occurred three days after the leaders of the United States, South Korea and Japan convened for a summit, focused on strengthening trilateral security and economic ties relations, at Camp David in the United States (Kim, 2023). Kim Jong-un’s direct involvement in overseeing the missile test underscores North Korea’s commitment to asserting its military capabilities amid international discussions (Reuters, 2023).

Leif-Eric Easley, professor of International Studies at Seoul’s Ewha University, emphasised that while these missiles might not match the most advanced technologies, they still present a genuine threat (Johnson, 2023). The purpose of this test could involve multifaceted strategies targeting South Korea, possibly in response to the perceived regime threat by President Kim (Johnson, 2023). Deeper cooperation between the United States, Japan and South Korea may hereby be a diplomatic catalyst to force the regime into diplomatic talks. Such cooperation has the potential to exert collective pressure on China, which could, in turn, influence North Korea’s participation in dialogues (Johnson, 2023). This avenue for diplomacy holds a promise of curbing North Korea’s escalation of nuclear threats and missile launches.


DW. (2023, August 21). North Korea: Kim Jong Un surveys cruise missile tests. Deutsche Welle.

Johnson, J. (2023, August 21). Kim leads missile test as South Korea-U.S. military drills begin. The Japan Times.

Kim, H. (2023, August 21). North Korea’s Kim watches cruise missile launches as US, South Korean troops begin annual drills. Associated Press.

Pyongyang Times. (2023, August 21). General Secretary Kim Jong Un inspects KPA Navy unit. KCNA Watch.

Shin, H. (2023, August 21). North Korea’s Kim directs cruise missile test as South Korea-US drills begin. Reuters.