North Korea has reportedly launched a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), according to officials from Japan and South Korea. The missile, with a long-range capability, flew for over an hour before falling short of Japanese waters on Wednesday morning. This launch follows North Korea's earlier threats of retaliation against alleged US spy plane incursions into its territory. The US has refuted these accusations, stating that its military patrols comply with international law.
Security tensions have heightened on the Korean Peninsula this year due to North Korea's testing of new weapons. The country has conducted a record number of missile launches in 2022, including missiles capable of reaching the United States. In response, the US and South Korea have increased their joint military drills in the region.
Despite international condemnation, North Korea has continued its missile launches, including a test of a new ICBM in April, which it claimed to be its most powerful missile to date. In May, the country attempted to launch a spy satellite, but the mission was unsuccessful.
The missile launched by North Korea on Wednesday traveled eastwards from Pyongyang, covering a distance of approximately 1,000 km (621 miles) before landing in the sea west of Japan. South Korea's military reported the high-angle flight trajectory. In response to the launch, South Korean and US officials issued a joint statement reaffirming their strengthened joint defense. They strongly condemned North Korea's ballistic missile launch as a provocative act that endangers the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the international community, and as a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.
While attending the NATO summit in Lithuania, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called for an urgent meeting of his national security council. North Korea's previous launch took place in mid-June, involving the firing of two short-range ballistic missiles in response to joint US-South Korean drills. The last ICBM test by North Korea occurred in February.
ICBMs are of particular concern due to their long-range capabilities, including the potential to reach the mainland United States. In a previous launch in November 2022, North Korea fired an ICBM on a high-angle, short-range trajectory. However, if fired on a lower trajectory, it could have reached the US mainland, as stated by the Japanese government at the time.
This recent launch by North Korea comes shortly after a series of heated rhetoric from Pyongyang, warning the US to halt its air patrols and proposing a visit by a nuclear submarine to Korean waters. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's influential sister, Kim Yo-jong, accused a US surveillance plane of violating North Korean airspace and warned of "shocking" consequences if such flights continued.
Experts note that North Korea tends to escalate external threats to rally domestic support and justify weapons tests. They also highlight the country's tendency to time launches to disrupt perceived diplomatic coordination against it, possibly referring to the Nato summit where leaders from South Korea and Japan were scheduled to meet on the sidelines.
Despite United Nations sanctions, Kim Jong Un has repeatedly vowed to increase North Korea's production of nuclear warheads and the development of more powerful weapons. Analysts anticipate a display of North Korea's latest hardware during the celebration of the anniversary of the Korean War armistice, known as Victory Day, in late July.