North Korea fired an “unidentified projectile” into the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, on Thursday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The launch would be the sixth weapons test this year for the nuclear power, which is flexing its muscles while ignoring US proposals for dialogue.
The last time North Korea tested so many weapons in a month was in 2019, after talks between its leader Kim Jong Un and then US President Donald Trump broke down.
Since then, talks between the two countries have been at an impasse and the North Korean economy is bent under the blow of severe international sanctions and self-imposed border closures to protect itself from Covid-19.
Pyongyang has already carried out two cruise missile tests on Tuesday, according to Seoul, which does not fall under current UN sanctions. North Korea also said it tested hypersonic missiles on January 5 and 11 and ballistic missiles on January 14 and 17.
This series of sanctions-banned tests prompted global condemnation and a closed meeting of the United Nations Security Council. The United States also imposed new sanctions in response, angering North Korea, which hinted last week that it could resume nuclear and long-range weapons testing.
Impressive variety of offensive weapons
Pyongyang has not tested intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons since 2017, and continued to observe a self-imposed moratorium even after dialogue with the United States stalled.
These trials come at a delicate time for the region: China, the only major ally of the North Korean regime, is hosting the Winter Olympics in February and South Korea is holding a presidential election in March.
Kim Jong Un’s regime is “developing an impressive diversity of offensive weapons despite limited resources and serious economic challenges”, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Some North Korean tests are aimed at developing new capabilities, especially to evade missile defenses,” he added. “Further launches aim to demonstrate the readiness and versatility of the missile forces that North Korea has already deployed.”
After a decade in power, Kim Jong Un has little cause for celebration. International sanctions have brought its economy to its knees, border closures have led to food shortages and the regime’s talks with the United States have stalled.
These various factors could explain why North Korea has conducted five weapons tests in the past three weeks, a spectacular display of the nuclear-armed nation’s military prowess ahead of important national anniversaries. The country is gearing up to celebrate the 80th birthday of Kim’s father, late leader Kim Jong Il, in February and then the 110th birthday of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founding leader, in April.