North Korea attempted to launch a medium-range ballistic missile off its east coast, but the launch failed, according to a South Korean Defense Ministry source cited by Yonhap News Agency. The type of missile was not confirmed but Yonhap alleged it could be the new Musudan ballistic missile, or BM-25, a powerful new mid-range missile of more than 3,000 kms (1,800 miles) capable of targeting far off US military bases.
The Musudan had not been flight-tested previously. The perceived range of the missile is enough to cover not only any target in South Korea, but also Japan, as well as American bases on the Pacific island of Guam. The launch was closely monitored by U.S. ships in the region.
A senior US defense spokesman said that the launch of the missile by detected by the US Strategic Command systems at around 8:30 pm GMT on Thursday. “North Korea appears to have tried a missile launch from the East Sea area early morning today, but it is presumed to have failed,” the Joint Chief of Staff said.
Earlier in the day Seoul had warned that North Korea had deployed one or two Musudan missiles off its east coast. There had been speculations that the North was preparing to test the medium-range missile.
Friday happens to be 104th the birthday anniversary of the late Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather and the country’s founder. The national holiday is often accompanied by demonstrations of the country’s military capabilities.
Pyongyang has recently escalated its nuclear and missile activity causing worries in the international community. This includes a nuclear test in January, its fourth, and a long-range rocket launch in February, as well as nuclear threats against the US and Seoul.
A UN resolution recently passed, bans any kind of ballistic testing in the region. The North has been strongly and widely condemned for military programs that breach UN Security Council resolutions.
“We strongly condemn North Korea’s missile test in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions, which explicitly prohibit North Korea’s use of ballistic missile technology,” the official said. The launch comes after the annual South Korean and US military drills that North Korea perceives as a rehearsal for invasion. Pyongyang had also fired a series of missiles and artillery shells into the sea in an apparent protest against the drills.
The recent surge in belligerence in the North may also be linked to leader Kim Jong Un’s preparations for a major ruling party meeting next month that analysts believe he will use to further solidify his autocratic rule.
The exact state of the North’s nuclear capabilities is debatable. Many believe that all Pyongyang has are a handful of crude nuclear bombs – but each nuclear and missile test pushes them farther along in their goal of a nuclear-armed arsenal of long-range missiles.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said today that North Korea’s firing of an intermediate range ballistic missile was, despite its failure, the country’s latest example of sabre-rattling.
“The firing of a mid-range ballistic missile on Friday by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), though failed, marks the latest in a string of sabre-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere,” it said in an English language commentary.
China is North Korea’s most important economic and diplomatic backer, but it has been angered by Pyongyang’s nuclear tests and rocket launches in the face of United Nations sanctions that China has also backed.
John Delury, an associate professor at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies, in Seoul, commented, “This latest missile test is just one in a steady stream, an outpouring really, of North Korean efforts to publicly demonstrate the strength of their nuclear weapons program. Kim Jong Un is sending a clear message: The new round of sanctions will not stop us.”
Delury also said the United States and its allies should not take much comfort in the apparent failure. “Every time the North Koreans test their nuclear and missile capabilities, they learn something, and get better,” he said.