North Korea conducted another provocative missile test on Wednesday. South Korean military intelligence believes the weapon was a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
The missile reached a peak altitude of over 550 miles before coming down in the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo swiftly condemned the launch, describing it as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Trump administration officials said they were monitoring the situation and coordinating with regional allies to analyze data about the launch, which took place only a few hours after North Korean officials announced new talks would be held with the U.S. on Saturday.
As military experts pointed out, a medium-range ballistic missile launched from a submarine is theoretically a threat to the United States, depending on how close the sub could get to North America before opening fire. At a minimum, North Korean SLBMs pose a clear threat to American interests in the Pacific and Hawaii.
The South Koreans naturally interpreted the launch as a message aimed at them, perhaps as a rebuke for Monday’s passage of a resolution condemning Pyongyang’s previous ten missile tests as a violation of the peace agreement between North and South Korea, or a peevish response to South Korea’s observance of Armed Forces Day on Tuesday, which included the public debut of new F-35 fighters obtained from the United States.
“The root cause of the stalemate in the North-South relations lies, in short, in the South Korean authorities’ treacherous behavior,” North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper said on Wednesday in an editorial denouncing the South’s military cooperation with America as “unchangingly aggressive.”
South Korea’s National Security Council expressed “grave concern” about the test and warned it will raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula. If the missile was launched from a submarine, it would be North Korea’s first SLBM test in three years.
Satellite photos of North Korea’s submarine base at Sinpo suggest a sub was launched from there at some point after dictator Kim Jong-un paid a highly publicized visit to the base on July 23. North Korea tends to test new weapons quickly after Kim performs such an inspection.
The administration of dovish South Korean President Moon Jae-in notably declined to immediately denounce the launch as Japan did, saying it preferred to let the U.N. Security Council decide if the missile test was an actionable violation of its resolutions.
“Given the timing of the launch, the North appears to have wanted to strengthen its negotiation position ahead of the talks and ramp up pressure on the U.S. to come up with a new calculation method acceptable to Pyongyang,” Handong Global University professor Park Won-gon told South Korea’s Yonhap News on Wednesday.
Yonhap reported analysis of the missile launch is still underway, including efforts to determine if two missiles were launched, or a single vehicle split into two segments during flight.