North Korea Launches Unidentified Projectile, South Korea Says

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SEOUL—North Korea launched a suspected ballistic missile off its east coast on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, marking the Kim Jong Un regime’s second weapons test in under a week.

The single-missile launch was detected at 7:27 a.m. local time from an unspecified inland location, according to South Korea’s military. The flight distance couldn’t immediately be learned.

South Korea is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining its defense posture, Seoul’s military said.

North Korea said last week that it had tested a hypersonic missile, with state media reporting the weapon’s warhead had detached from its rocket booster and hit a target more than 400 miles away. Before that Jan. 5 ballistic missile launch, Pyongyang hadn’t conducted a weapons test since October.

In a year-end policy speech, Mr. Kim said the country would pursue high-tech weapons to counter what he called military instability on the Korean Peninsula.

On Monday, the U.S., U.K., Japan and three other countries condemned North Korea’s weapons launch last week in a joint statement delivered by Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The countries urged North Korea to halt “further destabilizing actions” and return to nuclear talks, according to the statement.

A ballistic-missile test by North Korea violates U.N. Security Council resolutions, though the Kim regime has long ignored those orders.

Pyongyang for more than four years has refrained from nuclear tests or launching an intercontinental ballistic missile—major provocations that could alienate its close allies in Beijing and Moscow. But North Korea has unleashed more than 20 shorter-range weapons tests since 2019, showcasing submarine-launched technology to low-flying missiles designed to evade radar detection.

Tests like the Tuesday ballistic-missile launch advance weapons that sharpen the North’s abilities to control or pre-empt a military conflict near its own borders and could make future crises even more volatile, said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.

“This is a dangerous new normal,” Mr. Mount said. “In some ways, these tactical systems are more dangerous and they are certainly more difficult to address with diplomacy.”

Washington and Pyongyang haven’t held formal nuclear talks in more than two years. The Kim regime has ignored outreach by the Biden administration, demanding the U.S. first drop its “hostile policy” against the country of 25 million people. Washington has denied harboring any hostilities and repeatedly offered to meet without preconditions.

The International Olympic Committee has blocked North Korea’s participation in next month’s Winter Games in Beijing, after the regime chose not to send athletes to last year’s Tokyo Olympics over Covid-19 concerns.

On Friday, Pyongyang said it wouldn’t participate in the Winter Olympics, citing hostile forces and the pandemic. It also blasted diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Games by the U.S. and others as “getting evermore undisguised in their moves against China aimed at preventing the successful opening of the Olympics,” according to the state-media report.

Mr. Kim over the past year has warned of food shortages and rallied the country to endure tough times. At a recent Workers’ Party plenary session, Mr. Kim urged the country to boost agricultural production and accelerate rural development.

North Korea’s latest tests reinforce where the country’s true priorities remain, said Lee Sung-yoon, a Korea expert at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.

“North Korea as a country may be poor, but Kim Jong Un is rich,” Mr. Lee said. The third-generation dictator “has billions to spend on defense.”

Write to Timothy W. Martin at [email protected]

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