South Korea's SEOUL On Thursday, North Korea continued its recent onslaught of weapons tests by launching at least three missiles, one of which was likely an intercontinental ballistic missile, prompting the Japanese government to issue evacuation alerts and temporarily halt rail service.
The launches are the most current in a string of recent North Korean missile tests that have heightened tensions in the area. They were launched a day after Pyongyang launched more than 20 missiles, which was a record for the country.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea reported that it had observed the North launch what it believed to be an ICBM from a region close to Pyongyang at around 7:40 in the morning and then launch two short-range missiles an hour later from the nearby city of Kacheon that were aimed at its eastern waters.
Although South Korean officials waited a while before disclosing any specifics about the missile's trajectory, it's possible that the longer-range missile was fired at a high angle to avoid hitting the North's neighbors. One of the North Korean missiles, according to Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, reached a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) and went a distance of roughly 750 kilometers (460 miles) before his country's military lost track of it.
Initially worried that the alleged ICBM might pass over its northern region, the Japanese government then changed its mind and declared there were no overflies.
In the sky over the oceans between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, the missile allegedly "disappeared" from Japanese radars, according to Hamada. When asked whether the military believes the launch may have failed with the missile bursting in midair, Choi Yong Soo, a South Korean Navy captain who manages public affairs for Seoul's Defense Ministry, said that the test was still being examined but did not provide a specific response.
The office of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida issued notifications urging inhabitants in the northern prefectures of Miyagi, Yamagata, and Niigata to enter commercial buildings or the underground via television, radio, mobile phones, and public loudspeakers.
No damage or casualties have been reported in the regions where the alerts were issued. Following the missile threat, bullet train service in affected areas was briefly interrupted before quickly resumed. Kishida denounced the launches by the North and stated that officials were investigating the specifics of the weapons.
One of the more than 20 missiles North Korea fired on Wednesday went in the direction of a populated South Korean island and landed close to the sensitive sea border between the two countries, setting off air raid sirens and compelling Ulleung island residents to leave. South Korea launched their own missiles in the same border region as a prompt response.
Those launches came after North Korea expressed its displeasure with ongoing military exercises between South Korea and the United States, which it views as a warm-up for a potential invasion, by threatening to use nuclear weapons to make the United States and South Korea "pay the most horrible price in history."
This year, North Korea has increased the frequency of its weapons displays to a record level. It has launched a number of missiles, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile test since 2017, as it takes advantage of the diplomatic lull caused by Russia's conflict in Ukraine to advance armaments development and increase pressure on the United States and its allies in Asia.
With an escalating nuclear strategy that permits preemptive nuclear assaults over a variety of vaguely defined crisis conditions, the North has punctuated its testing. North Korea may escalate the ante in the upcoming weeks with its first nuclear test device explosion since September 2017, according to U.S. and South Korean sources.
According to their offices, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin about the missile launches on Wednesday, including the one that "recklessly and dangerously" came within range of the South Korean coastline. He emphasized the "ironclad" U.S. commitment to the security of its ally.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, also addressed worries about potential North Korean nuclear test preparations, which would be its eighth overall. Such tests, according to experts, may move North Korea one step closer to its objective of assembling a complete arsenal capable of endangering nearby allies of the United States and the American mainland.
Price noted that the test would be a "dangerous, reckless, destabilizing act" and that there would be more costs and repercussions should Iran proceed with a seventh nuclear test.
In October, North Korea last fired a missile over Japan in what it claimed was a test of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile that, according to experts, may be able to reach Guam, a significant American military base in the Pacific. The Japanese government was compelled by that launch to halt train operations and issue evacuation alerts.
According to experts, North Korea is stepping up its brinkmanship in an effort to convince the United States that it is a nuclear state and to negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
Since the beginning of 2019, negotiations on the North's disarmament efforts and the lifting of crushing U.S.-led sanctions against it have stagnated due to disputes.
The North has so far rejected pleas for ongoing negotiations from the Biden administration, asking that Washington first abandon its "hostile" policy, which it mostly uses to refer to sanctions and joint military drills with South Korea.
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, emphasized on Wednesday that the Biden administration has repeatedly attempted to contact North Korean officials through diplomatic channels and has made it clear that "we're willing to sit down with North Korea without precondition to discuss the denuclearization of the peninsula."