North Korea fires two ballistic missiles, one explodes in mid-air

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North Korea, Ballistic missiles

On Monday, July 1, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles, one of which may have failed and exploded during an irregular flight, potentially scattering debris inland, according to South Korea’s military. The precise impact and any resultant damage or casualties in North Korea are still under investigation.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) reported that the first short-range ballistic missile flew approximately 600 kilometers, while the second missile traveled around 120 kilometers. Both missiles were launched from an area near North Korea’s west coast and were aimed northeast. The trajectory suggests that the second missile might have landed near Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, though further details remain unconfirmed.

Military spokesperson Lee Sung-joon conveyed that the South Korean military is scrutinizing the launch but cannot yet confirm the extent of any damage or casualties. “We strongly condemn North Korea’s missile launch as a provocation that seriously threatens peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” the JCS stated. It further emphasized that the South Korean military, in collaboration with US and Japanese authorities, is sharing information and maintaining a vigilant posture to counter any potential provocations.

The JCS detected the first missile launch at 5:05 am (2005 GMT) and the second approximately ten minutes later. The second missile appeared to have an abnormal flight path early in its trajectory, raising suspicions that it might have exploded mid-air, potentially scattering debris across North Korea.

In response to the missile launches, South Korea’s military has heightened surveillance and vigilance, prepared for any further launches. The JCS reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining a robust defense posture in collaboration with the United States.

These missile tests occur amidst accusations that North Korea is violating arms control measures by supplying weapons to Russia for use in the Ukraine conflict. In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a summit in Pyongyang, demonstrating a show of unity. However, JCS spokesperson Lee declined to comment on whether the recent missile tests were related to potential weapons deliveries to Russia.

The launch also follows North Korea’s denunciation of joint military exercises conducted by South Korea, Japan, and the United States. These exercises, referred to as “Freedom Edge,” took place from Thursday to Saturday last week and involved preparation in ballistic missile and air defenses, anti-submarine warfare, and defensive cyber training. The exercises included the participation of Washington’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Tokyo’s guided-missile destroyer JS Atago, and Seoul’s KF-16 fighter jet.

North Korea has consistently criticized such combined exercises, viewing them as rehearsals for an invasion. However, South Korea defended the latest drills, asserting that they were a continuation of long-standing defensive exercises.

Last week, North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a multiple warhead missile, but South Korean officials reported that the launch ended in a mid-air explosion. Relations between the two Koreas are currently at a historic low, with the North increasing its weapons testing and sending balloons filled with trash into the South. Pyongyang has stated that these actions are retaliatory measures against balloons carrying anti-regime propaganda leaflets sent by South Korean activists.

In response to North Korea’s persistent missile launches, South Korea has fully suspended a military treaty aimed at reducing tensions. It has also temporarily resumed propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts and conducted live-fire drills near the border.

North Korea is currently holding a major party meeting, which was initiated by leader Kim Jong Un. Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, commented on the situation, stating, “In both North Korean politics and military policy, the best defense is often a good offense. These missile launches are likely the Kim regime’s way of compensating for recent failed tests, aiming to impress a domestic audience during ruling party meetings.” He added that Pyongyang is determined not to appear weak while South Korea conducts defense exercises with Japan and the United States.

The recent developments underscore the ongoing volatility and complexity of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. The international community remains watchful, with diplomatic efforts and military readiness being key components in addressing North Korea’s provocative actions. The interplay of military demonstrations, political maneuvering, and international alliances continues to shape the strategic landscape in the region.

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