Reports from South Korean intelligence and multiple publications indicate that the government of North Korea attempted to launch a submarine missile on Saturday. Unlike most of its illegal weapons activity, however, this one failed to make it onto the pages of state media, as most observers conclude it was a failure.
The incident in question appears to have taken place on Saturday at around 2PM local time near Wonsan, a coastal city. The South Korean Defense Ministry issued a statement confirming that their intelligence in the East Sea had evidence that North Korean military officials launched a missile. A spokesman for the ministry noted as well that “under U.N. resolutions, North Korea is prohibited from developing or testing any kind of ballistic missile.”
How the launch failed remains a mystery. South Korean National Intelligence Service Chief Lee Byung-ho said Monday he believed it had failed because his agency was unable to track the missiles trajectory following its initial launch, indicating that it had failed to surface and crashed early in its launch.
The UN sanctions have done little to stop North Korea from experimenting with ballistic missiles. In the past, however, the government has been vocal in publicizing its technological developments. In May, North Korean media published photos of dictator Kim Jong Un watching the launch of a submarine launch ballistic missile (SLBM) aboard a nearby ship. Kim then called the missile a “world-level strategic weapon,” despite all sources indicating that the missile crashed before reaching its destination and the impressive photos in North Korean media were doctored.
This time, North Korean media did not report the launch at all, adding to the presumption that the test failed. This theory has been corroborated by government sources telling South Korea’s Yonhap news that “protective cover fragments of the SLBM have been captured on the east coast,” indicating the missile broke apart.
South Korean officials cited in the Wall Street Journal assert the failed launch is a temporary setback, and North Korea may be able to launch such missiles successfully within five years. The American military has had this technological ability since the 1960s. Such reality has not deterred Kim from threatening the United States, however, declaring his nation prepared to launch a nuclear strike on the United States in September and issuing a speech in which he claimed North Korea was “ready for any kind of war” with America a month later.
Adding to the humiliation of the failed missile launch on Saturday are two major factors: the fact that international officials had been expecting such a launch since the declaration of a large no-sail zone near Wonsan in mid-November, and evidence that Kim personally attended the failed launch. UPI notes that South Korean intelligence strongly believe Kim was in attendance. North Korean media reported little of his activities over the weekend, though the one bit of information in the national Rodong Sinmun newspaper was that Kim was visiting Wonsan on Saturday.
The publication claims Kim was inspecting a shoe factory that day. “The officials and employees of the Wonsan Shoes Factory are good at production and culture as befitting a unit associated with the leadership feats of the Party and a factory which raised before others the banner of modernization in the light industrial sector, he noted,” according to the newspaper.
Kim is also known to own a residence in Wonsan, making his presence there more likely more often than other parts of the country.
Rodong Sinmun did mention missiles on Monday: those sold to South Korea by the United States, and the threat the Kim regime believes they are to its stability. “It is the scenario of the U.S. to continue using the south Korean military gangsters as a shock force for a war of aggression against the north and go over to an actual war any time. Herein lie the danger and gravity of the U.S. move to sell its new type missiles to south Korea,” an editorial declares, accusing America of looking to “pit Koreans against each other.”
The missile launch is not the only maritime mystery linked to North Korea in the news. Japanese coastal towns have seen an increase in the arrival of “ghost ships” to their shores – ships carrying decaying bodies that seem to have washed up to Japan without any navigational aid. Some of the ships appear to have Korean lettering on them, leading some to speculate their passengers are North Korean citizens trying to escape.
Following the reported launch, officials from America, South Korea and Japan are expected to meet this week to discuss the threat of a nuclear North Korea and “exchange views on a wide range of issues related to the North.” The failed missile launch is expected to be a topic on the docket there.