South Korea: North Korea launched what seemed to be two short-range ballistic missiles on Friday, the third such launch this month, according to South Korean officials, in apparent retaliation for new penalties imposed by the Biden administration for the country’s continued missile tests.
The missiles were shot 11 minutes apart from an interior area in western North Pyongan province, where North Korea is known to operate significant missile facilities and has routinely performed test launches in recent years, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
According to the military, the missiles traveled 430 kilometers (267 miles) cross-country at a maximum altitude of 36 kilometers (22 miles) before crashing into the sea.
The Japanese coast guard warned ships to be aware of falling objects, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said no damage to ships or planes had been reported.
North Korea had issued a statement chastising the Biden administration for implementing more sanctions in response to its past missile tests, warning that if Washington maintained its “confrontational approach,” it would face tougher and more explicit action.
In reaction to North Korea’s missile test this week, the Treasury Department imposed penalties on five North Koreans for their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the North’s missile programs. For their broader support of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction activities, the State Department imposed sanctions on another North Korean, a Russian citizen, and a Russian business.
The Biden administration also announced that it will seek UN sanctions, with a senior official from the US Mission to the UN saying on Friday that Washington will seek targeted sanctions against five people linked to North Korea’s weapons development, and that it is working with its allies on more designations.
According to the official, who was not allowed to speak publicly, North Korea has not responded to the United States’ offer a few months ago to sit together without preconditions and discuss measures to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and the potential of US humanitarian assistance. Pyongyang’s only answer has been to conduct fresh missile tests, which the person described as “very disruptive, dangerous, and most critically, in violation of a whole number of UN Security Council resolutions.”
The second hypersonic missile test in a week was witnessed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who stated it would significantly boost his country’s nuclear “war deterrence.”
North Korea has been conducting more tests of new, potentially nuclear-capable missiles aimed at overwhelming regional missile defenses. Some observers believe Kim is reverting to a tried-and-true tactic of threatening the world with missile launches and absurd threats before providing concession-seeking negotiations.
Following an unusually provocative run of nuclear and long-range missile tests in 2017, which demonstrated the North’s pursuit of an arsenal capable of striking the American homeland, Kim began diplomacy with former President Donald Trump in 2018 in the hopes of leveraging his nuclear weapons for economic gain.
The talks fell apart following Kim’s second meeting with Trump in 2019, when the Americans turned down his requests for massive sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear weapons.
Despite the country’s economy suffering huge setbacks after it shut its borders during the outbreak, as well as continuing US-led sanctions, Kim has committed to enhance a nuclear weapons he obviously sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
His government has so far refused the Biden administration’s open-ended offer to begin negotiations, claiming that Washington must first quit its “hostile policy” — Pyongyang’s euphemism for the sanctions and joint military drills between the US and South Korea.
National Security Director Suh Hoon and other senior officials conducted an emergency National Security Council meeting, expressing “deep sadness” over the ongoing launches and urging Pyongyang to recommit to dialogue, according to South Korea’s presidential office.
North Korea looks to be signaling that it will not be ignored and that it will respond to pressure with pressure, according to Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“North Korea is attempting to lure the Biden administration into a trap,” Easley added. “It has a waiting list of missiles it wants to test anyway, and it is responding to US pressure with more provocations in an attempt to coerce concessions.”
According to Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, the timing of the launch and detection of multiple missiles suggests North Korea demonstrated weapons that were already operational, rather than some of its other missiles under development, as it sought to signal Washington.
He speculated that the North may have tested a solid-fuel missile based on Russia’s Iskander mobile ballistic system, or a short-range weapon akin to the US MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System.
Both missiles, which have been tested by North Korea since 2019, are meant to be agile and fly at low angles, potentially increasing their chances of evading and defeating missile defense systems.
An unidentified Foreign Ministry representative defended the North’s past launches as a legitimate exercise of self-defense in a statement released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on Friday.
The additional measures, according to the spokesperson, demonstrate the US’ hostile desire to “isolate and suffocate” North Korea. The North’s development of hypersonic missiles, according to the spokeswoman, is part of its attempts to upgrade its military and does not target any single country or jeopardize the security of its neighbors.
Because of their speed and mobility, hypersonic weapons, which travel at speeds greater than Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could represent a significant threat to missile defenses.
Multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, solid-fuel long-range missiles, and submarine-launched nuclear missiles were all on Kim Jong Un’s wish list of sophisticated military assets released early last year.
Experts say North Korea will need years of testing and more successful and longer-range tests before developing a credible hypersonic system.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told MSNBC that the North’s latest tests were “profoundly destabilizing” and that the US was working on a response at the UN and with important partners, including allies South Korea and Japan.
“I believe that some of this is North Korea’s attempt to gain attention.” That’s what it’s done in the past. “It’ll probably keep doing that,” Blinken said. “However, we are working closely with our allies and partners to ensure that they and we are adequately protected, and that there are repercussions and consequences for North Korea’s activities.”