The Korea Herald


N. Korea using Ukraine as 'test site' for nuclear-capable missiles: Seoul

S. Korean envoy says Russia's use of NK missiles amounts to 'simulated attack' against S. Korea

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Jan. 11, 2024 - 15:28

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A firefighter extinguishes remains of an unidentified missile, which Ukrainian authorities claimed to be made in North Korea, at a site of a Russian strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine on Jan.2. (Reuters) A firefighter extinguishes remains of an unidentified missile, which Ukrainian authorities claimed to be made in North Korea, at a site of a Russian strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv, Ukraine on Jan.2. (Reuters)

South Korea raised the alarm at the UN Security Council that Russia's use of North Korean missiles has opened the door for North Korea to use Ukrainian territory as a "testing site of its nuclear-capable missiles," posing new security challenges.

The 15-member Security Council convened Wednesday to discuss the grinding war in Ukraine after the US disclosed North Korea's illicit transfer of ballistic missiles to Russia and Russia's use of North Korean ballistic missiles to launch several waves of devastating aerial attacks against Ukraine, on Dec. 30, Jan. 2 and Jan. 6.

South Korean Ambassador to the UN Hwang Joon-kook underscored that the “introduction of North Korean missiles into the war in Ukraine has a significant implication on global nuclear non-proliferation.”

"By exporting missiles to Russia, the DPRK used Ukraine as a test site of its nuclear-capable missiles, in wanton disregard of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and safety of the Ukrainian people," Hwang said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Hwang noted that some experts identify the missiles fired in Ukraine as the KN-23, a solid-fuel short-range ballistic missile claimed by North Korea to be capable of delivering nuclear warheads.

The KN-23 missile is primarily designed to target South Korean territory, aiming to incapacitate the missile defense systems of both South Korea and the United States with its greater survivability and maneuverability.

"For the ROK, this comes as a clear and present demonstration of the existential threat," Hwang said, referring to South Korea as the Republic of Korea.

"One of the missiles flew 460 kilometers, exactly the same distance between Wonsan, a typical DPRK missile launch site, and Busan, the largest port city of the ROK. From the ROK standpoint, it amounts to a simulated attack."

As the missile launches offer valuable technical and military insights into North Korea, there is an increased potential for the nation to be motivated to export ballistic missiles to other countries. This in turn could generate additional revenue, further supporting its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

"The DPRK missiles used in Ukraine are posing new challenges that require our joint response," Hwang said.

Hwang underscored that any arms procurement from North Korea contravenes multiple UNSC resolutions that Russia itself voted in favor of, calling for Russia to stop its military cooperation with North Korea.

South Korea, the United States, Japan, and other like-minded countries called for Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council responsible for maintaining international peace and security, to end the illegal war.

"It's abhorrent that a permanent member of the UN Security Council is flagrantly violating Council resolutions to attack another UN member state -- violations that further the suffering of the Ukrainian people, support Russia’s brutal war and undermine the global nonproliferation regime," said Robert Wood, the US alternate representative for special political affairs in the UN.

Wood said that the US expects Russia will use more North Korean missiles to destroy more of Ukraine's critical infrastructure and kill Ukrainian civilians.

Before the meeting, eight countries issued a joint statement, urging Russia to cease its misuse of authority and to recommit to its responsibilities within the Security Council.

"Each violation makes the world a much more dangerous place," read the joint statement issued under the names of South Korea, France, Japan, Malta, Slovenia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the US. "A permanent Security Council member that willingly engages in these violations demonstrates a clear exploitation of its position."

Meanwhile, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday that he was not aware of military cooperation between North Korea and the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip.

Kirby's comments came after South Korea's spy agency confirmed last week's Voice of America report that Hamas fighters used F-7 rocket-propelled grenade munitions manufactured in North Korea to attack Israel.

"I'm not aware of any indications that there's been some sort of cooperation militarily between Hamas and North Korea. I just don’t have anything to verify that," Kirby said.

A Seoul source said that Kirby's statement implies that the utilization of North Korean-produced weapons by Hamas may not necessarily indicate the presence of direct military ties between the two parties. Seoul and Washington have recognized multiple ways to transfer North Korean weapons to Hamas through third parties.

The NSC clarified later in the day that the US is "aware of a body of evidence in the public domain – both historical and recent – that DPRK weaponry has been used by Hamas" in a statement to VOA. But the NSC said the US has not seen "indications of military cooperation between the DPRK and Hamas."