North Korea last launched an ICBM in March, but the missile was fired at a deliberately steep angle. The missile soared 3,850 miles into space but only covered a distance of 671 miles, falling into waters west of Japan.
The North followed up with the test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Oct. 4, which flew over Japan, setting off alarms there. That missile flew farther than any other missile the North had tested before, traveling a distance of nearly 2,800 miles.
In recent years, North Korean missile tests have become all but routine. But its latest flurry of launches has spiked jitters among policymakers in Seoul and Tokyo because they involved various shorter-range missiles that the North said were harder to intercept and could deliver tactical nuclear warheads to South Korea and to Japan.
Under its brash leader, Kim Jong-un, North Korea has also adopted a harder-line nuclear doctrine, making an explicit threat to use its nuclear weapons if it felt danger.
“Given the lack of prior notification and the experimental nature of North Korea’s missiles, there are dangers that a test on a threatening trajectory could be interpreted as an attack or that a projectile could malfunction and hit a populated area,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
The war in Ukraine has raised tensions with Moscow in both Washington and Tokyo, making Russia, as well as its ally China, less cooperative when it comes to the United Nations Security Council imposing additional sanctions on the North. Both China and Russia are veto-wielding members of the Council, and their resistance to new sanctions may encourage North Korea to test more missiles, analysts say.
“So while Kim may calculate that China and Russia will shield North Korea from further U.N. Security Council resolutions, he is still risking escalation with this aggressive schedule of launches,” Professor Easley said, referring to the North’s leader. “Kim appears willing to take that risk in an attempt to frighten democratic publics and coerce Washington, Seoul and Tokyo to scale back their defense exercises.”
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