North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into its eastern waters on Sunday, the latest in a recent barrage of weapons tests, a day after it warned that the redeployment of a US aircraft carrier near the Korean peninsula was inflaming regional tensions.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that it detected two missile launches between 1:48 a.m. and 1:58 a.m. on Sunday from the northeastern coastal city of Munchon. He added that the South Korean military has strengthened its surveillance posture and maintains a readiness in close coordination with the United States.
Japanese Vice Defense Minister Toshiro Ino also confirmed the launches, saying Pyongyang’s test activities are “absolutely unacceptable” as they threaten regional and international peace and security.
Ino said the weapons could be submarine-launched ballistic missiles. “We are continuing to analyze the details of the missiles, including the possibility that they were launched from the sea,” Ino said.
North Korea’s pursuit of the ability to fire missiles from a submarine would be an alarming development for its rivals because it is harder to detect such launches in advance. North Korea is believed to have last tested a missile launch from a submarine in May.
The South Korean and Japanese militaries estimated that the missiles flew about 350 kilometers (217 miles) and reached peak altitudes of 90 to 100 kilometers (56 to 60 miles) before falling in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and the Japan
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida separately instructed officials to gather and analyze all the information they could and expedite any updates on the tests to the public. His office said it also sought to ensure the safety of all aircraft and ships in Japan’s waters as it prepared for any contingencies.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that the launches posed no immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to its allies. But he said the launches highlight “the destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s illegal weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. He said U.S. commitments to the defense of South Korea and Japan remain “strong.”
The launch, the North’s seventh round of weapons tests in two weeks, came hours after the United States and South Korea wrapped up two days of naval exercises off the east coast of the Korean peninsula.
The drills involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group, which returned to the area after North Korea fired a powerful missile over Japan last week to protest the group’s prior training transport with South Korea.
On Saturday, North Korea’s defense ministry warned that Reagan’s redeployment was causing a “considerably huge negative impact” on regional security. The ministry called its recent missile tests a “just reaction” to the intimidating military exercises between South Korea and the United States.
North Korea views US and South Korean military exercises as a rehearsal for invasion and is particularly sensitive if such exercises involve strategic US assets such as an aircraft carrier. North Korea has argued that it was forced to pursue a nuclear weapons program to counter US nuclear threats. US and South Korean officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of attacking the North.
North Korea has launched more than 40 ballistic and cruise missiles in more than 20 separate events this year, using a UN Security Council split that deepened over Russia’s war on Ukraine as a window to accelerate the weapons development.
The record number of tests included the launch last week of a nuclear-capable missile that flew over Japan for the first time in five years. It was estimated to have traveled about 4,500–4,600 kilometers (2,800–2,860 mi), a distance sufficient to reach the US Pacific territory of Guam and beyond.
South Korean officials say Pyongyang may soon up the ante by launching an intercontinental ballistic missile or detonating a nuclear test, following a traditional pattern of manufacturing diplomatic crises with weapons tests and threats before offering negotiations aimed at extracting concessions . There are also concerns about provocations along Korea’s land and sea borders.
Sunday’s launches came on the eve of the 77th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.
Earlier this year, North Korea tested other nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that put the North American continent, South Korea and Japan within striking distance.
North Korea’s series of tests indicate that its leader, Kim Jong Un, has no intention of resuming diplomacy with the US and wants to focus on expanding his weapons arsenal. But some experts say Kim would eventually want to use his advanced nuclear program to win bigger foreign concessions, such as recognizing North Korea as a legitimate nuclear state, which Kim believes is essential to lifting crippling UN sanctions .
South Korean officials recently said North Korea was also ready to test a new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile, as it remains poised to conduct its first underground nuclear test since 2017 .
I will see: Tensions with North Korea worsen