North Korea has launched a ballistic missile launched from a submarine into the waters off the coast of Japan, the South Korean military reported.
Pyongyang unveiled the missile in January, describing it as “the most powerful weapon in the world”.
It comes weeks after South Korea unveiled a similar weapon.
North Korea has carried out a flurry of missile tests in recent weeks, including what it claimed to be hypersonic and long-range weapons.
Some of these tests violate severe international sanctions.
The country is specifically banned by the United Nations from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.
The United Nations considers ballistic missiles more threatening than cruise missiles because they can carry more powerful payloads, have a longer range, and can fly faster.
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South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Tuesday that a missile was launched from Sinpo port in eastern North Korea, where Pyongyang usually bases its submarines. He landed in the Eastern Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan.
They said it was suspected to be a ballistic missile launched from a submarine.
South Korean media reported that this particular missile is believed to have traveled around 450 km (280 miles) at a maximum altitude of 60 km.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said two ballistic missiles were fired, calling the launches “very deplorable”.
Because the “submarine launch” is significant
In October 2019, North Korea tested a ballistic missile launched from a submarine, firing a Pukguksong-3 from an undersea platform.
At the time, the state news agency KCNA said it had been shot from a high angle to minimize the “external threat”.
However, if the missile had been launched on a standard rather than vertical trajectory, it could have traveled about 1,900 km. This would put all of South Korea and Japan within reach.
Being launched from a submarine can also make missiles harder to detect and allow them to get close to other targets.
The latest launch comes as South Korea develops its own weapons, in what observers say has turned into an arms race on the Korean peninsula.
This week Seoul will hold what is said to be South Korea’s largest defense exhibition. It will reportedly unveil a new fighter jet and guided weapons such as missiles. It should also launch its own space rocket soon.
North Korea and South Korea technically remain at war as the Korean War, which divided the peninsula into two countries and which saw the United States support the South, ended in 1953 in an armistice.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said last week that he does not want war to break out again. He said his country needs to continue developing weapons for self-defense against enemies, namely the United States which it has accused of hostility.
Mixed messages from Pyongyang
North Korea has been pushing for years to develop and test nuclear submarine missiles.
But can they really shoot them from a submarine? We will have to wait for the launch images, which will give analysts a better idea of how far Pyongyang has come.
And let’s be clear about the threat – the country’s submarines are reportedly noisy and easy to track down. The regime is thought to have only one submarine capable of launching missiles while a second is under construction in Sinpo.
There is, of course, some entertainment going on here as well.
Just last month, South Korea launched its own submarine-launched ballistic missile and the North was not impressed.
So, in the midst of this regional arms race, is there still hope for talks?
Seoul still thinks so. But Kim Jong-un is sending mixed messages. One minute it’s firing missiles and the next it’s sending missives through the state media about potential peace talks.
As always, Pyongyang is proving difficult to read.
Meanwhile, the heads of South Korean, Japanese and US intelligence are meeting in Seoul to discuss North Korea.
The United States envoy to North Korea, Sung Kim, is currently on his way to the city to discuss how to restart the dialogue with Pyongyang, including the advisability of a formal declaration of the end of the Korean War.
In the past 24 hours, it has reiterated the position of US President Joe Biden’s administration to be open to meeting with North Korea without preconditions.
Previous talks between the United States and North Korea broke down due to fundamental disagreements over denuclearization.
The US wants North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons before sanctions can be relaxed, but so far North Korea has refused.
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