North Korea fired at least one possibly submarine-launched ballistic missile Tuesday — its eighth missile test-fire so far this year and the first marked demonstration of military might since President Biden took office.
“Our military detected a missile launch eastward from a site in the vicinity of Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province around 10:17 a.m.,” said South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff, General Won In-choul told reporters, ABC News reported.
Japan’s defense ministry said the hermit nation fired two missiles, one reaching an altitude of 30 miles and traveled 360 miles. South Korea said one missile was fired.
“It is likely a new mini-SLBM that North Korea showcased last week at an arms exhibition,” Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, told the outlet.
The demonstration came as the US special envoy to North Korea, Sung Kim, is expected to meet in Washington with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea this week to discuss restarting stalled negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.
The launch amplified already high tensions in the region, caused Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to return to Tokyo from a campaign trip to deal with the national security threat.
“We cannot overlook North Korea’s recent development in missile technology and its impact on the security of Japan and in the region,” he said.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said it was monitoring the launch but determined it didn’t pose a threat.
The US and its allies in the region are trying to determine if they were launched from a submarine.
North Korea bases its submarine fleet in a port in Sinpo.
If the missiles were launched from a submarine, it would mean that North Korea has developed the capability to get closer to its target — and remain undetected while doing so.
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has long sought to develop inter-continental ballistic missiles that can carry a nuclear payload and strike the continental US.
But experts said North Korea is still probably years away from developing that technology and the recent shows of force are a signal to South Korea, which is locked in an arms race with its northern neighbor.
Kim is “developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles because he wants a more survivable nuclear deterrent able to blackmail his neighbors and the United States,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul, told the Associated Press.
He said North Korea “cannot politically afford to appear to fall behind in a regional arms race” with South Korea.
“North Korea’s SLBM is probably far from being operationally deployed with a nuclear warhead,” he added, referring to a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
North Korea last test-fired a submarine-launch ballistic missile in October 2019.
But it has displayed two new submarine-launched missiles at military parades in 2020 and 2021 and is actively working to develop a submarine large enough to fire multiple missiles.
Japan lodged a “strong protest” to North Korea through the “usual channels” – their embassies in Beijing – because Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic ties, said Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki.
China’s foreign ministry said tensions on the peninsula were at a “critical stage” and called for a diplomatic solution.
The launch came just hours after the US told North Korea that it is interested in restarting the stalled negotiations over its nuclear weapons program that began during the Trump administration.
“The US continues to reach out to Pyongyang to restart dialogue. Our intent remains the same. We harbor no hostile intent toward (North Korea) and we are open to meeting without preconditions,” Kim told reporters on Monday.
Last week, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un presided over a military exhibition showcasing the country’s array of weapons and vowed to develop the nuclear capability to strike the US.
“The US has frequently signaled it’s not hostile to our state, but there is no action-based evidence to make us believe that they are not hostile,” Kim said. “The US is continuing to create tensions in the region with its wrong judgments and actions.”
Flanked by a row of intercontinental ballistic missiles, Kim said the weapons are not intended to start a war but to protect North Korea.
“We are not discussing war with anyone, but rather to prevent war itself and to literally increase war deterrence for the protection of national sovereignty,” he said.
Former President Donald Trump held three summits with Kim as part of negotiations to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, but they ultimately ended in stalemate when Kim demanded that sanctions be eased before he would reduce his arsenal.
With Post wires