North Korea fires two suspected missiles in sixth launch this month

South Korean soldiers near the border with North Korea
South Korean soldiers in Paju, near the border with North Korea, on Thursday.
(Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press)

North Korea on Thursday fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea in its sixth round of weapons launches this month, the South Korea military said.

Experts say North Korea’s unusually fast pace in testing activity underscores an intent to pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled negotiations aimed at getting crippling U.S.-led sanctions lifted in exchange for denuclearization steps.

The renewed pressure comes as the COVID-19 pandemic further shakes the North’s economy, which was already battered by the sanctions over its nuclear weapons program and by decades of government mismanagement.


South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapons, which were likely short-range, were launched five minutes apart from the eastern coastal town of Hamhung and flew 118 miles on an apogee of 12.4 miles before landing in the sea.

Aviation authorities issued a Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM, for pilots operating in South Korean airspace, alerting them to a “missile launched from North Korea” and advising that they maintain close communication with air-traffic controls, according to the website of South Korea’s Office of Civil Aviation.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the latest launches, while highlighting the destabilizing impact of North Korea’s weapons program, didn’t pose an “immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies.”

A U.N. investigator says North Koreans living under strict pandemic restrictions are facing a growing food crisis, and the most vulnerable children and elderly people in the isolated nation are at risk of starvation.

Oct. 13, 2021

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida confirmed that there were no reports of damage to vessels and aircraft around the Japanese coast. He called the North’s repeated missile firings “extremely regrettable” and violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Senior security and military officials in the South gathered for an emergency National Security Council meeting, where they expressed strong regret over the North’s continuing launches and urged Pyongyang to re-commit to dialogue, the South Korean presidential office said.

The North last week issued a veiled threat to resume the testing of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles targeting the U.S. homeland, which leader Kim Jong Un suspended in 2018 while initiating diplomacy with the United States.


Kim’s high-stakes summitry with then-President Trump broke down in 2019 after the U.S. rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reaches 10 years in power

Dec. 16, 2021

Some experts say North Korea could dramatically escalate weapons demonstrations after the Winter Olympics, which begin Feb. 4 in China, the North’s main ally and economic lifeline.

They say Pyongyang’s leadership likely feels it could use a dramatic provocation to move the needle with the Biden administration, which has been preoccupied with bigger adversaries, including Russia and China.

The Biden administration has offered open-ended talks but showed no willingness to ease sanctions unless Kim takes real steps to abandon the nuclear weapons and missiles he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.

The North has been ramping up its testing activity since the fall, demonstrating various missiles and delivery systems apparently designed to overwhelm missile-defense systems in the region.

North Korea’s new missiles tests renew concerns that the country is building its capacity to deliver strikes on U.S. allies South Korea and Japan.

Sept. 13, 2021

Experts say Kim is trying to apply more pressure on Washington and Seoul to accept it as a nuclear power in hopes of winning relief from economic sanctions and convert diplomacy with Washington into mutual arms-reduction negotiations.


Thursday’s launch came two days after South Korea’s military detected the North flight-testing two suspected cruise missiles at an unspecified inland area.

North Korea opened 2022 with a pair of test-firings of a purported hypersonic missile, which Kim described as an asset that would remarkably bolster his nuclear “war deterrent.”

The North also this month test-fired two different types of short-range ballistic missiles it has developed since 2019 that are designed to be maneuverable and fly at low altitudes, which experts say potentially improves their chances of evading and defeating missile-defense systems.

North Korea says it successfully tested a new hypersonic missile, continuing its string of weapons tests as tensions grow on the Korean Peninsula.

Sept. 29, 2021

In a ruling party meeting attended by Kim last week, the North accused the Biden administration of hostility and threats and said it would consider “all temporally-suspended activities” that it had paused during its diplomacy with the Trump administration, in an apparent threat to resume testing of nuclear explosives and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry had earlier warned of “stronger and certain reaction” after the Biden administration imposed fresh sanctions following the North’s second hypersonic test Jan. 11.

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on five North Koreans over their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the country’s missile programs, while the State Department ordered sanctions against another North Korean, a Russian man and a Russian company for their broader support of North Korea’s weapons activities.


However, Washington’s efforts to seek new U.N. Security Council sanctions against the five North Koreans sanctioned by the Treasury Department were blocked last week by China and Russia, which have called for the U.N. to end key sanctions against the North, citing its economic difficulties.

“Despite efforts to strengthen sanctions, Washington’s responses to North Korean launches this month are nowhere near its reaction to Pyongyang’s provocations in 2017,” when the North staged an unusually provocative run of nuclear and ICBM tests, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“U.S. policy has become more measured and coordinated but is still inadequate for changing North Korean behavior. The Biden administration has other priorities, ranging from pandemic recovery at home to confronting Russia over Ukraine, Iran regarding its nuclear program, and China across the board,” he said.

Despite international concerns over its weapons activity, North Korea will still get to chair a U.N. disarmament forum during a one-month presidency between May 30 to June 24, according to a U.N. statement.

The U.N. Conference on Disarmament, which has 65 member states and focuses on nuclear disarmament issues, says the conference’s presidency rotates among member states.

U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based activist group, called for the U.S. and European ambassadors to walk out of the conference during North Korea’s presidency, saying that the country threatens to attack other U.N. member states with missiles and commits atrocities against its own people.