Missile launch failure in South Korea: “I thought it was war”

In Gangneung, a failed rocket launch was initially kept secret. That’s why he triggered panic among residents there.

A fire in the background of the night, in the foreground the shadow of a house

Night fire at Gangnueng after failed rocket launch Photo: Kim Hee Soo/ap

BEIJING taz | It was a terrifying sight: just hours after North Korea Intermediate-range missile fired over Japan residents of the South Korean city of Gangneung on the east coast spotted an orange glowing missile over their city’s night sky. A little later, huge flames erupted from the nearby military base. Just what had happened?

Until dawn, the South Koreans groped in the dark. The television news did not mention the incident, nor did major newspaper websites. The information vacuum, which lasted several hours, was finally filled with wild speculation on social media: “I thought it was war,” commented a South Korean. Other Gangneung residents fled their homes, fearing it was an attack by North Korea, which is only 100 kilometers away, after all.

It was only after around nine hours that the South Korean military managed to clarify: A rocket launch by its own armed forces on Wednesday night went wrong, it said. The missile of the short-range missile had carried a warhead with it, but this had not exploded. No one was harmed in the events.

But the incident comes at a very delicate time. Tensions on the Korean peninsula are currently at their highest level in years. North Korea fired a missile on Tuesday that drew more attention than the others in previous days.

South Korea’s rocket basically backfired

The medium-range missile not only flew further than any other North Korean missile before it, but also over the Japanese island chain for the first time in five years. There it even triggered a rare missile alert in two northern regions.

South Korea responded immediately by demonstratively dropping two precision bombs over an uninhabited island in the Yellow Sea. The second blow followed on Wednesday night: the joint forces of the South Koreans and the Americans fired four surface-to-surface missiles in the direction of the Sea of ​​Japan (Korean: East Sea) to protect North Korea – as stated in a statement – ​​from further provocations to deter.

But they startled South Korea’s population in particular. Because the General Staff initially swept under the carpet that a fifth rocket was fired in Gangneung – which failed for reasons unknown up to now.

The fact that the incident was kept under wraps for almost nine hours indicates a news blackout imposed by the authorities on the sensitive subject. However, this radical measure was counterproductive because it damaged trust in the army leadership.

Gangneung has had bad experiences with North Korea

It is an ironic twist of fate that the incident happened in Gangneung of all places. Because in what is actually a sleepy coastal town, less than an hour and a half by car from the mined demarcation line, the population is particularly alert to the threat from the north.

In September 1996, a stranded submarine from North Korea was found here, which caused the population to panic. During the subsequent manhunt for the crew, several dozen people died in gunfire, including several civilians.

On Wednesday, however, no one was harmed – except for a burned down military golf course. Nevertheless, one can only hope that the South Korean army will be more transparent about its failures in the future.

The opportunity to do so may present itself very soon: on Wednesday, the United States again deployed the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier “USS Reagan” to the waters off the east coast of Korea. North Korea will no doubt take this as a serious provocation. The ballet of missile tests and military saber-rattling is therefore likely to continue in the coming weeks.

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