Details of the rocket explosion were not immediately known. But the launch, the tenth of its kind this year, shows North Korea’s determination to continue to modernize its weapons arsenal and pressure its rivals to make concessions amid lingering talks over denuclearization.
A North Korean missile fired from the capital exploded in mid-air in what appeared to be a launch failure on Wednesday, the South Korean military said amid speculation the North could soon launch its largest long-range missile in the most significant provocation in history. years. Details of the rocket explosion were not immediately known. But the launch, the tenth of its kind this year, shows North Korea’s determination to continue to modernize its weapons arsenal and pressure its rivals to make concessions amid lingering talks over denuclearization.
The North Korean missile exploded while flying at an altitude of about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles), a South Korean military official said, asking for anonymity because he was not publicly authorized to speak to the media about the matter. He said the cause of the explosion was unknown. South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement earlier that the launch from the Pyongyang region apparently failed at around 9:30 am. It said South Korean and US intelligence agencies were analyzing details of the launch.
The US Indo-Pacific Command later said North Korea fired a ballistic missile, but did not say whether it was a failed launch. A command statement said the launch posed no immediate threat to US territory and its allies, but called on North Korea to refrain from further destabilizing actions. Japanese Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that a ballistic missile flight has not been confirmed and that Tokyo is working with Washington and Seoul to further analyze what happened.
Experts say past failures have still pushed North Korea closer to its goal of acquiring a viable nuclear arsenal that could threaten its US homeland. Of the eight “Musudan” tests of medium-range missiles in 2016, only one of those launches was deemed successful by outside analysts, sparking debate over whether North Korea’s path to ICBMs had been cut off.
However, the North flew more powerful medium-range missiles over Japan in 2017 and conducted three successful test flights of ICBMs that showed a potential range to strike deep into the US mainland. North Korea’s successful satellite launches in 2012 and 2016 — which were viewed by the UN as disguised tests of its long-range missile technology — also followed repeated failures.
The US and South Korean militaries said last week that North Korea had tested an ICBM system in two recent launches, citing the Hwasong-17 missile that North Korea unveiled at an October 2020 military parade. In its two recent launches on February 27 and March 5, North Korean missiles flew medium-range, and experts have said North Korea could eventually conduct a full-range ICBM test.
The North has said it has tested cameras and other systems for a spy satellite and released what it believes were photos taken from space during one of the two tests, but it has not confirmed which missile or missile it launched. Observers say North Korea is looking to increase its ICBM capability as it tries to launch its first functioning spy satellite into orbit. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to acquire an upgraded ICBM and spy satellite among a suite of advanced weapon systems that he says will help his country confront what he calls US hostility.
The Hwasong-17 is North Korea’s largest missile, potentially flying up to 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles), far enough to strike anywhere in the US and beyond. The 25-meter-long missile, which was again displayed at a defense exhibition in Pyongyang last year, has yet to be tested. The three ICBMs that North Korea tested in 2017 were the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15. Some analysts say developing a larger missile could mean trying to arm its long-range weapons with multiple warheads to overcome missile defense systems.
If North Korea makes another ICBM launch, these would be its most notable weapons tests since its third and final ICBM launch in November 2017. space, no weapons test. That could lead to condemnation, but probably not new UN sanctions, some analysts say, as Russia and China vetoes and oppose the Security Council.
Other North Korean missiles tested this year have mostly been closer-range nuclear weapons, putting South Korea and Japan, both key US allies, within range. In January alone, North Korea conducted seven rounds of missile tests, a record number of monthly tests since Kim took power in late 2011.
US-led diplomacy aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear program collapsed in 2019 over a row over US-led sanctions against the north. Washington has urged North Korea to return to talks without preconditions, but Pyongyang has rejected such overtures, saying the United States must first withdraw its hostile policies.
In January, North Korea hinted that it would lift the four-year moratorium on ICBM and nuclear tests. South Korea’s defense ministry said Friday it has detected signs that North Korea is likely to restore some of the tunnels at its nuclear test site it detonated ahead of now-dormant nuclear diplomacy. The US Treasury Department last week announced new sanctions against three Russian-based entities that have contributed to the continued development of North Korea’s military capabilities and two individuals associated with those companies. The sanctions block access to US assets held by them.
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