North Korea Test-Fires Barrage of Short-Range Missiles

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea test-fired a barrage of short-range ballistic missiles from multiple locations toward the sea on Sunday, South Korea’s military said, extending a provocative streak in weapons demonstrations this year that U.S. and South Korean officials say may culminate with a nuclear test explosion.

Possibly setting a single-day record for North Korean ballistic launches, eight missiles were fired in succession over 35 minutes from at least four different locations, including from western and eastern coastal areas and two inland areas north of and near the capital, Pyongyang, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The missiles were capable of flying 110 km to 670 km (68 to 416 mi) at maximum altitudes 25 to 80 km (15 to 56 mil).

Hours later, Japan and the United States conducted a joint ballistic missile exercise aimed at showing their “rapid response capability” and “strong determination” to counter threats, Japan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Won In-Choul held a video conference with Gen. Paul LaCamera, an American general who heads the South Korea-U.S. combined forces command in Seoul, and they reaffirmed the allies’ joint defense posture, according to the military in Seoul.

Sung Kim, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, also discussed the launches with South Korean officials while on a visit to Seoul. They expressed “deep regret” that North Korea was continuing weapons development despite grappling with a COVID-19 outbreak at home, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said none of the missiles fell inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

These launches were made one day after U.S. Aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan completed a three-day naval drill in the Philippine Sea with South Korea. This was apparently the first such joint drill between the two countries since November 2017. The drills are part of the effort by the nations to improve their defence exercises against North Korean threats.

North Korea has long condemned the allies’ combined military exercises as invasion rehearsals and often countered with its own missile drills, including short-range launches in 2016 and 2017 that simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean ports and U.S. military facilities in Japan.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol was upset that North Korea had been firing missiles once per nine days in the past year, he said to national security officials. He vowed to strengthen the country’s defense in cooperation with the United States, according to his office.

The launches marked North Korea’s 18th round of missile tests in 2022 alone — a streak that has included the country’s first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years.

According to experts, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is trying to get the United States to recognize the North’s nuclear potential and to negotiate security and economic concessions while in a strong position.

According to U.S. and South Korean officials, there appear signs that North Korea may also be pushing ahead with nuclear testing at Punggye Ri (northern region). The North’s next nuclear test would be its seventh since 2006 and the first since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb to fit on its ICBMs.

On Friday, Sung Kim, the U.S. envoy, said Washington is “preparing for all contingencies” in close coordination with its Asian allies. Although the United States pledged to press for more international sanctions in case North Korea launches a nuclear attack, prospects of further U.N. Security Council action seem dim.

Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution that would have imposed additional sanctions on North Korea over its latest ballistic tests on May 25, which South Korea’s military said involved an ICBM on a medium-range trajectory and two short-range weapons. Biden’s trip to South Korea und Japan ended with those tests. He affirmed his commitment to defend allies and concluded the trip by visiting Japan.

North Korea’s March launch of an ICBM nearly straight at full-range by North Korea showed it could fly longer and higher than any weapons it has ever tried, demonstrating its ability to reach the entire U.S. mainland.

While Kim’s ICBMs have garnered much international attention, he has also spent the past three years expanding his arsenal of shorter range solid-fuel missiles threatening South Korea and Japan. His tests were punctuated by repeated statements that North Korea would use nuclear weapons pro-actively if threatened or provoked. Experts believe this is a sign of an escalatory nuclear doctrine, raising more concerns about neighbors.

Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions for the North’s disarmament steps.

Kim, in spite of deepening economic woes has not shown any willingness to completely surrender the arsenal that he considers his best guarantee for survival. Experts believe he is trying to turn the dormant talks on denuclearization into a negotiation to reduce the number of arms with the United States.

Kim’s pressure campaign comes as the country deals with a deadly COVID-19 outbreak across his largely unvaccinated autocracy that lacks public health tools.

GAVI, a non-profit that manages the U.N.-backed COVAX distribution programme, stated Friday that it understood that North Korea had accepted vaccines offered by China. It has now begun to give the doses. It isn’t immediately clear how many doses of which vaccines the North received or how the country was rolling them out.

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