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North Korea fires ballistic missile ‘from submarine’ and will be ready to test nuclear bomb, US says

North Korea has continued its provocative weapons testing as it fired a ballistic missile most likely from a submarine earlier today, South Korea has said.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the launch took place in waters near the eastern port city of Sinpo, where North Korea has a major shipyard building submarines.

If confirmed, this would be just the latest in a series of missile tests by Pyongyang as US officials have warned Kim Jong Un is gearing up to test a nuclear weapon this month.

If the test goes ahead, it would be North Korea’s first nuclear test in five years as the country continues to exploit the favourable environment while the UN Security Council is preoccupied with the war in Ukraine.

South Korean and US intelligence officials described today’s launch as a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a ‘serious threatening act that harms international peace and stability’.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobu Kishi told reporters the launch was unacceptable but that the missile fell outside of its exclusive economic zone and that no damage to aircraft or vessels was reported.

North Korea has continued its provocative weapons testing as it fired a ballistic missile most likely from a submarine earlier today, South Korea has said. Pictured: Kim Jong Un last week

South Korea’s national security director Suh Hoon and other senior officials denounced the launch during an emergency meeting.

They urged North Korea to return to long-stalled talks aimed at defusing the nuclear standoff, Seoul’s presidential office said.

It was apparently North Korea’s first demonstration of a submarine-launched ballistic missile system since October last year – an underwater launch which was the North’s first in two years.

On Wednesday, the South Korean and Japanese militaries detected a suspected ballistic missile fired from near the capital, Pyongyang.

Both exercises come ahead of the inauguration on Tuesday of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to take a tougher approach over the North’s nuclear ambitions.

Yoon’s office said in a statement that his government will pursue ‘actual deterrence ability’ against the North’s nuclear and missile threat, but didn’t specify how.

Officials in Seoul have urged North Korea to return to talks aimed at defusing nuclear standoff

Officials in Seoul have urged North Korea to return to talks aimed at defusing nuclear standoff

Yoon has vowed to strengthen South Korea’s defence in conjunction with its alliance with the United States, which he said would include enhancing missile striking capabilities.

So far this year, North Korea has fired missiles 15 times. They include the country’s first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in March that demonstrated a potential range to reach the entirety of the US mainland.

North Korea has been clearly exploiting a favourable environment to push forward its weapons program with the UN Security Council divided and effectively paralyzed over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The unusually fast pace in testing activity underscores a brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and remove crippling sanctions, experts say.

There are also signs that North Korea is restoring tunnels at a nuclear testing ground, where it had conducted its sixth and last nuclear test in September 2017, in possible preparations for another explosive test.

Analysts say the North could use another nuclear test to claim it can now build small nuclear warheads for its expanding range of shorter-range weapons threatening South Korea and Japan, or put a cluster of bombs on a multi-warhead ICBM.

Jalina Porter, the US State Department’s deputy spokesperson, said during a briefing yesterday that the United States assesses that North Korea could be ready to conduct a nuclear test at its Punggye-ri test site as early as this month.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has punctuated his recent missile tests with statements warning that the North could proactively use its nuclear weapons if threatened or provoked.

Experts say such rhetoric possibly portends an escalatory nuclear doctrine that would create greater concerns for South Korea and Japan.

‘(North Korea’s) submarine technology probably remains short of being able to stay at sea for extended periods while avoiding detection.

‘But the ability to launch ballistic missiles from a submarine would further complicate missions to neutralize and defend against North Korea’s nuclear forces,’ said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University.

He said the Kim regime appears to be preparing to test a miniaturized nuclear device that it can use to arm its submarine-launched or tactical missiles.

North Korea has been pushing hard to acquire an ability to fire nuclear-armed missiles from submarines, which in theory would bolster its deterrent by ensuring retaliation after absorbing a nuclear attack on land.

Ballistic missile submarines would also add a new maritime threat to the North’s growing collection of solid-fuel weapons fired from land vehicles, which are being developed with an apparent aim to overwhelm missile defence systems in South Korea and Japan.