North Korean missile launch fails, Seoul says

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North Korea fired a projectile on Wednesday, but the launch appeared to have failed immediately, Seoul said, with analysts warning it was likely a test of Pyongyang’s so-called “monster missile”.

The launch – North Korea’s alleged tenth weapons test this year – comes after the United States said the nuclear-armed country was preparing to fire an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) “at full scope” for the first time since 2017.

Despite biting international sanctions on its weapons programs, Pyongyang conducted seven missile tests in January and twice launched components of what it claimed was a “reconnaissance satellite”.

South Korea and the United States said last week that these tests were in fact for a new ICBM system that had never been launched before – probably the Hwasong-17, dubbed a “monster missile” by analysts after was first unveiled in a fashion show in October 2020.

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“North Korea fired an unknown projectile from the Sunan area around 9:30 a.m. today, but it is presumed to have failed immediately after launch,” the Seoul Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. communicated.

The February 27 and March 5 “satellite” tests also came from the Sunan region of Pyongyang, according to the South Korean military.

Japanese media reported that Wednesday’s launch was a “possible ballistic missile test”, citing an unnamed Defense Ministry official.

National broadcaster NHK reported that senior government officials were meeting at the prime minister’s office to discuss the situation.

The nuclear-armed North has long coveted an ICBM that can carry multiple warheads, and the United States said last week that the recent tests marked a “serious escalation” of the country’s weapons programs.

The US military said this week that it had “upgraded” South Korea’s missile defense systems.

He also “increased the intensity” of air defense drills, as well as conducting an on-board aerial demonstration in the Yellow Sea following recent North Korean launches.

Monster missile?

The North conducted three ICBM tests – the last in November 2017 of a Hwasong-15 – deemed powerful enough to reach Washington and the rest of the continental United States.

But the country has observed a self-imposed moratorium on long-range and nuclear weapons testing since 2017, when leader Kim Jong Un embarked on a wave of high-level diplomacy.

Negotiations with then US President Donald Trump collapsed in 2019 and since then Kim has doubled down on plans to modernize his military while ignoring US offers of talks.

“There are signs that the North tested Hwasong-17 today,” Cheong Seong-chang, senior researcher at the private Sejong Institute, told AFP.

“With Russia now very unlikely to agree to additional sanctions against the North in the event of such a test launch amid its invasion of Ukraine, Pyongyang appears to have judged this to be the optimal time to proceed.” , Cheong said.

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Wednesday’s failed launch will be studied closely by Pyongyang, and it may take about three tests to make sure the missile works, he added.

“I expect the North to perform one or two more test launches before April 15,” he said.

North Korea will mark the 110th anniversary of the birth of founding leader and Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, in April and likes to mark key national anniversaries with parades or military launches.

“The Kim regime wants to demonstrate new technical achievements around the 110th birthday of its founder, Kim Il-sung,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“If the most recent missile launch was indeed a failure, North Korea will almost certainly continue to test,” he added.

Satellite images indicate that North Korea is preparing for a military parade for April’s birthday.

The fact that Wednesday’s launch failed indicates that it was not just “an ordinary missile”, North Korean studies specialist Ahn Chan-il told AFP.

The timing, during a South Korean presidential transition and as the world focuses on Ukraine, also indicates that Pyongyang is seeking maximum leverage, he added.

A new ICBM launch would be an early challenge for South Korea’s new president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who has pledged to take a tougher line against provocations from the North.

Yoon has not ruled out the possibility of dialogue with Pyongyang, but analysts say his hawkish stance puts him on a completely different footing from his liberal predecessor and drastically reduces the prospect of substantial engagement.

Courtesy of AFP

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