SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea flight-tested a ballistic missile on Saturday that was likely fired from a submarine, the South Korean military said, continuing a provocative streak of weapons demonstrations that could culminate to a nuclear test in the weeks or months to come.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the launch took place from waters near the eastern port city of Sinpo, where North Korea has a major submarine-building shipyard. He said the short-range missile traveled 600 kilometers (372 miles) at a maximum altitude of 60 kilometers (37 miles), but he did not immediately provide details of the submarine believed to have been involved in the blast. launch.
South Korean and US intelligence officials were analyzing the launch, the military said, describing it as a flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a “serious threatening act that undermines peace and security.” international stability”.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobu Kishi told reporters the missile fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and no damage to aircraft or ships was reported.
South Korea’s national security director Suh Hoon and other senior officials at an emergency meeting denounced the launch and urged North Korea to resume long-stalled talks aimed at defusing the nuclear standoff , said the Seoul presidential office.
It was apparently North Korea’s first demonstration of a submarine-launched ballistic missile system since October last year, when it fired a new short-range missile from 8.24 Yongung – its only known submarine capable of launching a missile. October’s underwater launch was the North’s first in two years.
On Wednesday, the South Korean and Japanese military detected a suspected ballistic missile fired from near the capital, Pyongyang. Both exercises come ahead of the inauguration on Tuesday of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who has pledged to take a tougher approach to the North’s nuclear ambitions.
Yoon’s office said in a statement that his government would pursue “effective deterrence capability” against the North’s nuclear and missile threat, but did not specify how. Yoon pledged to strengthen South Korea’s defense in conjunction with its alliance with the United States, which he said would include improving missile strike capabilities.
So far this year, North Korea has fired missiles 15 times. They include the country’s first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in March that demonstrated potential range to reach the entire continental United States.
North Korea has clearly exploited an enabling environment to advance its weapons program with the UN Security Council divided and effectively crippled by Russia’s war on Ukraine. The unusually fast pace of testing activity underscores a tightrope strategy aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and remove crippling sanctions, experts say.
There are also signs that North Korea is restoring tunnels at a nuclear testing ground, where it carried out its sixth and final nuclear test in September 2017, as part of possible preparations for another. explosive test. Analysts say the North could use another nuclear test to claim it can now build small nuclear warheads for its growing range of shorter-range weapons threatening South Korea and Japan, or plant a cluster of bombs on a multi-warhead ICBM.
Jalina Porter, deputy spokeswoman for the US State Department, told a briefing on Friday that the US believes North Korea may be ready to conduct a nuclear test at its Punggye test site. laughed as early as this month.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un punctuated his recent missile tests with statements warning that the North could proactively use its nuclear weapons if threatened or provoked. Experts say such rhetoric portends an escalating nuclear doctrine that would create greater concerns for South Korea and Japan.
Kim made one such statement at an April 25 parade in Pyongyang, where he showcased the most notable weapons of its military nuclear program, including ICBMs and what appeared to be a new type of missile designed to be fired from submarines that may be larger than previous models.
“Underwater technology (from North Korea) probably doesn’t allow staying at sea for long periods of time while avoiding detection. But the ability to launch ballistic missiles from a submarine would further complicate neutralization and defense missions against North Korean nuclear forces,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
He said the Kim regime appears to be preparing to test a miniaturized nuclear device it can use to arm its submarine-launched or tactical missiles, and several warheads on its ICBMs.
North Korea has been pushing hard to acquire the capability to fire nuclear missiles from submarines, which in theory would enhance its deterrence by ensuring retaliation after absorbing a nuclear attack on land.
Ballistic missile submarines would also add a new maritime threat to the North’s growing collection of solid-fuel weapons fired from ground vehicles, which are being developed with the apparent aim of overwhelming missile defense systems. in South Korea and Japan.
In recent years, the North has developed and tested a family of missiles named Pukguksong, which are designed to be fired from submarines or ground vehicles. Still, experts say the heavily sanctioned nation would need significantly more time, resources and major technological upgrades to build at least several submarines that could travel the seas quietly and reliably execute strikes.
The South Korean and Japanese militaries said the North Korean missile fired on Wednesday traveled about 500 kilometers (310 miles) at a maximum altitude of 800 kilometers (500 miles). North Korean state media has yet to comment on the test.
——— Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to the report.