Officials in South Korea reported North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles on Friday, the third such launch this month, in apparent retaliation for new sanctions imposed by the Biden administration for the country’s continued missile tests.
The missiles were fired from an interior location in western North Pyongan province, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The launch was also detected by Japan’s Prime Minister’s Office and Defense Ministry, and the country’s coast guard advised ships to be aware of falling items.
North Korea had issued a statement chastising the Biden administration for implementing more sanctions in response to its missile tests, warning that if Washington maintains its “confrontational approach,” it will take tougher and more concrete action.
In reaction to the North’s missile launch this week, the sanctions targeted five North Koreans for their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the North’s missile programs. Washington also stated that further UN sanctions would be sought.
Leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the prior test flight of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday, the second in a week, and stated it would considerably improve his country’s nuclear “war deterrence.”
North Korea has been conducting more tests of new, potentially nuclear-capable missiles aimed at overwhelming regional missile defenses. Some observers believe Kim is reverting to a tried-and-true tactic of threatening the world with missile launches and absurd threats before providing concession-seeking negotiations.
Following an unusually provocative run of nuclear and long-range missile tests in 2017, which demonstrated the North’s pursuit of an arsenal capable of striking the American homeland, Kim began diplomacy with former President Donald Trump in 2018 in the hopes of leveraging his nuclear weapons for economic gain.
The talks fell apart after Kim’s second meeting with Trump in 2019, when the Americans turned down his demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear weapons.
Despite the country’s economy suffering major setbacks after it shut its borders during the pandemic and persistent US-led sanctions, Kim has pledged to expand a nuclear arsenal he clearly sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
His government has so far refused the Biden administration’s open-ended offer to resume talks, claiming that Washington must first halt its “hostile policy” — Pyongyang’s phrase for sanctions and joint military drills between the US and South Korea.
North Korea looks to be signaling that it will not be ignored and that it will respond to pressure with pressure, according to Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“North Korea is attempting to lure the Biden administration into a trap,” Easley added. “It has a backlog of missiles it wants to test anyway, and it is responding to US pressure with more provocations in an attempt to coerce concessions,” says the report.
An unidentified Foreign Ministry representative defended North Korea in a statement released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on Friday.
The new sanctions, according to the spokesperson, demonstrate the US’ hostile intent to “isolate and suffocate” North Korea. The North’s development of the new missile, according to the spokeswoman, is part of the North’s attempts to upgrade its military and does not target any single country or threaten the security of its neighbors.
Because of their speed and maneuverability, hypersonic weapons, which travel at speeds greater than Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose a significant threat to missile defenses.
Multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, solid-fuel long-range missiles, and submarine-launched nuclear missiles were all on Kim’s wish list of sophisticated military assets released early last year.
Experts say North Korea will need years of testing and more successful and longer-range tests before developing a credible hypersonic system.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told MSNBC that the North’s latest tests were “profoundly destabilizing” and that the US was working on a response at the UN and with important partners, including allies South Korea and Japan.
“I believe that some of this is North Korea’s attempt to gain attention.” That’s what it’s done in the past. “It’ll probably keep doing that,” Blinken said. “However, we are working closely with our allies and partners to ensure that they and we are adequately protected, and that there are repercussions and consequences for North Korea’s activities.”