North Korea test-fired at least one unidentified ballistic missile toward the sea on Sunday, South Korea’s military said, extending a provocative streak in weapons demonstrations this year that U.S. and South Korean officials say may culminate with a nuclear test explosion.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff didn’t immediately say where the weapon was fired from or how far it flew.
The launch came a day after the U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan concluded a three-day naval drill with South Korea in the Philippine Sea, apparently their first drill involving a carrier since November 2017, as the countries move to upgrade their defense exercises in the face of growing North Korean threats.
The launch was North Korea’s 18th round of missile tests in 2022 alone — a streak that has included the country’s first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years — as it continues to exploit a favorable environment to push forward weapons development with the U.N. Security Council divided over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s brinkmanship is aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
South Korean and U.S. officials say there are signs that North Korea is also pressing ahead with preparations at its nuclear testing ground in the northeastern town of Punggye-ri. The North’s next nuclear test would be its seventh since 2006 and the first since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb to fit on its ICBMs.
On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, said Washington is “preparing for all contingencies” in close coordination with its Asian allies as he participated in a trilateral meeting in Seoul with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts over the nuclear standoff with North Korea.
Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions against North Korea and the North’s disarmament steps.