North Korea launched a ballistic missile into its eastern seas on Wednesday, according to South Korean and Japanese authorities, only days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to beef up his nuclear weapons “at the quickest feasible pace” and threatened to use it against adversaries.
The launch happened six days before a new conservative South Korean president enters office for a single five-year term, marking the North’s 14th round of weapons shooting this year.
The missile was launched from the North’s capital area and flown to the waters off South Korea’s eastern coast, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It described North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches as a “grave threat” to world peace and security, as well as a breach of UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting the North from launching any ballistic missiles.
Won In-Choul, the South Korean JCS commander, conducted a video conference regarding the launch with Gen. Paul LaCamera, the American general in charge of the South Korea-US combined forces command in Seoul, according to the statement, and they agreed to maintain a strong joint defense posture.
The North Korean missile was also spotted by Japan, which swiftly denounced it.
“North Korea’s succession of measures endangering the international community’s peace, safety, and stability are unacceptably dangerous,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters during his visit to Rome.
Kishida said he’ll talk about the launch with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi when they meet later Wednesday. “Of course, we will exchange views on the regional situation in the Indo-Pacific and East Asia, and I will properly explain the realities of the area, including today’s North Korean missile launch, to gain awareness of the critical situation in East Asia,” he added.
The missile is thought to have fallen outside of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, according to Japanese Vice Defense Minister Makoto Oniki. There have been no reports of boats or planes in the region causing damage or harm.
The type of missile fired by North Korea was not immediately known. The missile flew roughly 470 kilometers (290 miles) at an apogee of 780 kilometers (485 miles), according to the South Korean military, and about 500 kilometers (310 miles) at a maximum altitude of 800 kilometers, according to Oniki of Japan (500 miles).
North Korea’s unusually rapid pace of weapons testing this year, according to observers, shows the country’s dual objective of expanding its missile programs while also exerting pressure on Washington over a growing stalemate in nuclear talks. According to reports, Kim intends to utilize his enhanced arsenal to gain worldwide recognition of North Korea as a nuclear power, which he believes would compel the US to ease international economic sanctions against the country.
One of the missiles recently launched by North Korea was an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the whole American territory. Kim’s self-imposed 2018 ban on large-scale weapons testing was broken with the launch of that missile.
There are indications that the North is also planning a nuclear test at its far-flung northeastern testing location. If carried out, North Korea’s nuclear bomb test will be the sixth of its kind and the first since 2017.
During a spectacular military parade in Pyongyang last week, Kim Jong Un displayed his most powerful nuclear-capable missiles, which were aimed at both the US and its allies. Kim claimed during his speech at the parade that he would enhance his arsenal at the “quickest feasible speed” and warned that if the North’s national interests were challenged, the North would use nuclear weapons first.
North Korea has used harsh rhetoric in the past, threatening to attack its adversaries with nuclear weapons. However, the fact that Kim issued the threat directly and in such detail has caused several South Koreans to be concerned about their security. In light of North Korea’s recent testing of short-range nuclear-capable missiles, some analysts believe the country’s potentially escalating nuclear strategy may allow it to conduct preemptive nuclear attacks on South Korea in some instances.
Wednesday’s launch came ahead of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol’s inauguration on May 10, and he has promised to improve Seoul’s missile capacity and strengthen its military alliance with Washington to better deal with rising North Korean nuclear threats.
When Seoul and Washington inaugurate new governments, North Korea has a history of boosting tensions with missile tests, ostensibly to increase its power in future discussions.
According to some observers, the Biden administration’s stoic attitude toward North Korea while focusing on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and escalating conflict with China is allowing the North to enhance its military capabilities.
So far, the Biden administration’s moves on North Korea have been mostly symbolic penalties and open-ended discussion promises. North Korea has rejected the Trump administration’s invitation for talks, claiming that it must first quit its “hostile policy,” a clear reference to US-led international sanctions and joint military drills between the US and South Korea.