SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Tuesday fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile into its eastern sea, its second weapons launch in a week, the militaries of South Korea and Japan said.
This month’s launches follow a series of weapons tests in 2021 that underscored how North Korea continues to expand its military capabilities amid a self-imposed pandemic lockdown and deadlocked nuclear talks with the United States.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea likely fired a single ballistic missile from an inland area to its eastern sea, and that the South Korean and U.S. militaries were analyzing the launch. It didn’t immediately say how far the weapon flew.
Japan’s Prime Minister’s Office and Defense Ministry also said the weapon was possibly a ballistic missile, but officials didn’t immediately provide more details.
The Offices of Guam Homeland Security and Civil Defense said they were monitoring the reports of the launch but that no immediate threat was assessed for Guam, a major U.S. military hub in the Pacific.
The launch came six days after North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea in what it later described as a successful test of a hypersonic missile, a type of weaponry it claimed to have first tested in September.
That test came days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed during a key political conference to bolster his military forces, even as the nation grapples with pandemic-related difficulties that have further strained its economy, crippled by U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear program.
The economic setbacks have left Kim with little to show for his diplomacy with former U.S. President Donald Trump, which derailed after their second meeting in 2019 when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
The Biden administration, whose policies have reflected a broader shift in U.S. focus from counterterrorism and so-called rogue states like North Korea and Iran to confronting a near-peer adversary in China, has said it’s willing to resume talks with North Korea “anywhere and at any time” without preconditions.
But North Korea has so far rejected the idea of open-ended talks, saying the U.S. must first withdraw its “hostile policy,” a term the North mainly uses to describe the sanctions and joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.
“Even with North Korea’s pandemic border lockdowns restricting trade and diplomacy, Pyongyang is determined to run an arms race against Seoul and deny Washington the luxury of focusing on Russia and China,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
North Korea’s advancing nuclear arsenal is at the core of Kim’s rule and what he clearly considers his strongest guarantee of survival.
During his 10-year rule, he has conducted a large number of weapons tests in a push to acquire the ability to launch nuclear strikes on the American mainland.
But his country’s economy has faltered severely in the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sanctions imposed over his nuclear ambitions and his government’s own mismanagement.