North Korea Fires 4th Short-Range Missile, After US Sanctions

South Korea’s military said North Korea launched two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea on Monday, its fourth such launch this month, with the apparent purpose of displaying its military power amid halted dialogue with the US and increased border restrictions.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea said the North likely fired two short-range ballistic missiles from a place near Pyongyang’s international airport in Sunan. It claimed the missiles were launched four minutes apart and traveled 380 kilometers (236 miles) at a maximum height of 42 kilometers (26 miles) before landing in seas off the country’s northeastern coast.

The missiles do not represent an immediate threat to US soldiers, territories, or allies, according to the US Indo-Pacific Command, but they do illustrate the destabilizing consequences of the North’s “illicit” weapons development. Nobuo Kishi, Japan’s defense minister, claimed the missiles fell beyond the country’s exclusive economic zone, while Hirokazu Matsuno, the top cabinet secretary, criticized North Korea’s activities as dangers to peace.

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who is visiting the United Arab Emirates, has directed authorities to make “all possible steps to guarantee stability” on the Korean Peninsula, according to his office. Members of the president’s National Security Council also emphasized the importance of reviving nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang, according to the report.

North Korea launched two flight tests of a rumored hypersonic missile on January 5 and 11, as well as a test-fire of ballistic missiles from a train on Friday, in apparent retaliation for new penalties imposed by the Biden administration last week for its continued test launches.

In recent months, North Korea has increased its testing of new, potentially nuclear-capable missiles that are agile and fly at low altitudes, potentially improving their chances of avoiding and overcoming regional missile defenses.

According to some analysts, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is reverting to a tried-and-true strategy of threatening his neighbors and the United States with missile launches and absurd threats before engaging in discussions to obtain concessions.

In 2019, a US-led diplomatic effort to persuade North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons development failed when the Trump administration rejected the North’s proposals for massive sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear arsenal.

Since then, Kim has committed to build up his nuclear weapons, which he regards as his best chance of survival.

His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s demand for no-strings-attached engagement, claiming that Washington must first quit its “hostile policy,” which Pyongyang refers to as sanctions and joint military drills between the US and South Korea.

According to Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, the North may have launched another missile to put pressure on Washington, and it might ramp up its testing activity after pledging to take tougher measures in response to what it regards as US aggression.

In reaction to the North’s previous tests this month, the US Treasury Department imposed penalties on five North Koreans last week for their roles in procuring equipment and technology for the North’s missile programs.

The State Department imposed penalties on another North Korean, a Russian individual, and a Russian firm for their broader support of North Korea’s WMD programs, and the Biden administration also stated that it would seek new UN sanctions in response to the North’s repeated nuclear tests.

The penalties were announced only hours after North Korean state media reported that Kim Jong Un supervised a successful launch of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday, the country’s second such test in a week, and claimed that the weapon would significantly boost the country’s “war deterrent.”

In apparent retribution for the new US penalties linked to the hypersonic testing, the North launched two short-range ballistic missiles from a train on Friday. The test occurred just hours after the North’s Foreign Ministry chastised the Biden administration for the additional sanctions and threatened “stronger and more certain” retaliation if Washington continues to be hostile.

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