North Korea fired ballistic missile toward Baltic Sea, says Yonhap

(Bloomberg) — North Korea has tested and added a suspected ballistic missile to its spate of launches over the past month, including two missiles designed to deliver a nuclear warhead to the US mainland, according to Yonhap News.

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The missile was fired at waters in the east of the Korean peninsula on Sunday, Yonhap said, citing South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The missile is expected to have fallen outside of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, NHK reported, citing unnamed people linked to Japan’s defense ministry. Further details of the launch were not immediately available.

Kim Jong Un’s regime said it fired a Hwasong-17 ICBM last week, hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol traveled to Japan for a summit aimed at repairing ties and improving security cooperation. Kim said the launch was intended to “instill fear in North Korea’s enemies” while the US stepped up joint military exercises with South Korea.

Large-scale military exercises by the US and its allies this month – dubbed the “Freedom Shield” and taking place on March 13-23 – are intended to bolster defenses against Kim’s arsenal.

North Korea had already launched 12 ballistic missiles since February 18, including two ICBMs and what appears to be a new short-range ballistic missile intended to hit US bases in South Korea. The tests also included two cruise missiles fired from a submarine in what appeared to be another first.

Kim Yo Jong, the leader’s influential sister, has warned that Pyongyang would turn the Pacific into a “firing ground” if the US resumed exercises. She also hinted that the state could begin testing whether its warhead designs can withstand the heat of atmospheric reentry.

North Korea has shown its missiles can fly as far as the US mainland, but it is questionable whether the warheads can remain intact to reach their targets.

Read: Japan Needs South Korea to Defend Against Kim’s Missiles

North Korea put on its largest display of ICBMs during a military parade in Pyongyang in February. Kim oversaw the event with his teenage daughter watching from a place of honor. Their presence signaled that another generation is poised to take on the last contiguous Cold War family dynasty.

Over the past year, North Korea has launched more than 70 ballistic missiles, the most during Kim’s ten-year tenure, while modernizing its arsenal and increasing its ability to deliver a nuclear strike against the US and its allies. Kim could fuel tensions even further with his first nuclear test since 2017.

The North Korean leader pledged to exponentially increase his nuclear arsenal in the new year to quell what he called hostile actions by the US and South Korea, in a keynote speech released Jan. 1, citing almost no opportunity for a return for too long stalled disarmament talks.

At a meeting of their defense ministers in Seoul at the end of January, the US and South Korea pledged to increase the scope of their joint exercises. The drills had been scaled back or halted under former President Donald Trump, who hoped the move would ease his nuclear negotiations with the North Korean leader.

However, those talks yielded no concrete steps to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program, which only grew as disarmament talks stalled. In recent months, Japan has joined some of the drills, which also included the US and South Korea, a move that angered Pyongyang, which responded with force shows to signal its displeasure.

(Updates with additional details and backgrounds)

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