North Korea Missile Launches A 'Daunting Challenge' As President Biden Considers How To Deal With Kim Jong Un


Thursday, March 25th 2021, 2:05 pm
By: CBS News


North Korea test-fired what U.S. officials believe were two short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday. It was Kim Jong Un's first such launch since President Joe Biden took office, and it came just hours before his first scheduled solo news conference as commander-in-chief.

The projectiles, the launch of which would be a violation of United Nations sanctions on North Korea if they're confirmed to have been ballistic missiles, flew approximately 270 miles and landed in the Sea of Japan, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

"It is a clear statement of intimidation," retired South Korean Lieutenant General Chun In-bum told CBS News. He said North Korea wanted to show the world they "are not bound by any outside rules. The two short range ballistic missiles could easily have been intermediate or longer-range missiles if [North] Korea intended on doing so. This is going to go on and on until North Korea goes too far, and that's what I am afraid of." 

North Korea has test-fired many missiles over the years, and the regime often tests new and sitting U.S. presidents in this manner to gain attention and to show anger. Thursday's launch was the first apparent test of a banned missile in a year, and it came just days after the Kim regime's first test of any weapons system since Mr. Biden took office.

Mr. Biden played down the weekend test with a chuckle, but issued no comment on Thursday's launch ahead of his news conference in Washington.

The U.S. military's Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that it was "aware of North Korean missile launches" and would continue monitoring the situation and "consulting closely with our allies and partners."

"This activity highlights the threat that North Korea's illicit weapons program poses to its neighbors and the international community," the command said. "The U.S. commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea [South Korea] and Japan remains ironclad."

Just last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited the capitals of both Japan and South Korea and stressed that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula remained a top priority for the new administration.

The Biden White House is currently conducting a review of its North Korea policy, with an update expected in the coming weeks. 

"It is a daunting challenge to the Biden administration," said Won Gon Park, a professor of North Korean studies at South Korea's Ewha Women's University. 

"Before finalizing its review on the North Korean policy, the Biden administration is forced to answer the North Korean provocation," he told CBS News. "The Biden administration wants to emphasize the principles and norms of international order. Since North Korea's ballistic missile is a definite violation of U.N. Resolution 1874, they need to summon the Security Council and condemn North Korea." 

North Korea has a long history of leveraging missile launches to try to win concessions from Washington at the negotiating table, often demanding financial aid and other assistance. The country is one of the poorest in the world and was reportedly grappling with famine and drought even before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

"In order to halt North Korea from advancing its nuclear and missile capabilities, it is important for South Korea and the U.S. to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table through the four-party talks involving China, South Korea, the U.S. and North Korea," said Seong-Chang Jeong, Director of the Center for North Korean Studies in South Korea. "Making North Korea give up its nuclear weapons, which the North considers vital to its security, is as close to impossible as making Israel, India and Pakistan give up their own nuclear weapons."

CBS News' Jen Kwon in Seoul contributed to this report.