At a press conference on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper expressed concern about North Korea’s recent launches of short-range ballistic missiles, but said that the United States would not “overreact.”
“Obviously, we are concerned about the short-range ballistic missile tests. We want to understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” Esper said, speaking at a press conference at the Pentagon along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford.
“But on the other hand, we aren’t going to overreact. We want to take a measured response and make sure we don’t close the door to diplomacy.”
Starting in May, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has overseen flight-testing of three new systems: a short-range, solid-fuel quasi-ballistic missile known by the U.S. intelligence community as the KN25, a short-range, large-caliber multiple launch rocket system, and a short-range, solid-fuel ballistic missile.
The KN23 has been tested most frequently and appears to be designed to evade U.S. and South Korean missile defense systems.
North Korea said it had conducted the latest round of tests, beginning of July 25, over concerns about U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises and South Korea’s purchase of advanced military hardware, including F-35As, from the United States.
Addressing the now-concluded U.S.-South Korea late-summer command post exercises, Dunford expressed confidence about the level of the alliance’s readiness.
“We’re confident that the exercise and training program that we have in place right now will allow us to maintain the requisite level of readiness,” Dunford said.
Esper said that he had spoken to U.S. Forces Korea commander General Robert Abrams about the exercises. “[Abrams] feels that the training and exercise plan we currently have underway is sufficient to maintain our readiness on the peninsula with our ROK allies,” Esper added.
The Trump administration has been hesitant to overtly criticize the latest round of North Korean missile launches.
While the United Nations Security Council has convened twice this summer to condemn the launches as violations of North Korean obligations under UNSC resolutions, U.S. President Donald J. Trump described the launches as “very standard” earlier this year.
Speaking last week, Trump also compared North Korea’s missile launches to U.S. ones, noting that the United States had just tested “another big one the other day,” referencing the U.S. test of a ground-launched cruise missile after the August 2 exit from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.