North Korea Tested New Type of Ballistic Missile, South Korea Says

SEOUL, South Korea — The two projectiles North Korea launched off its east coast on Thursday were a new type of short-range ballistic missile, the South Korean government said, acknowledging that the North was expanding its ability to deliver nuclear warheads as President Trump’s efforts to bring the country to the negotiating table remain stalled.

The assessment — the South’s first formal declaration that North Korea is testing a new missile — accused the North of violating United Nations resolutions that ban it from developing and testing ballistic missile technologies.

If validated, it also appears to undercut what President Trump has repeatedly touted as his biggest diplomatic achievement in dealing with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

Mr. Trump has vigorously defended his relationship with the North Korean dictator — “We fell in love,” he has said — by repeatedly claiming that the North has not conducted any serious missile tests since he began engaging Mr. Kim in diplomacy in early 2018.

The South Korean government appeared to suggest otherwise on Thursday. “This act by North Korea does not help efforts to ease military tensions on the Korean Peninsula at all,” the office of President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said after a meeting of the National Security Council on Thursday.

The council, in a statement, expressed its “strong concerns.” A technical analysis is still underway with United States officials.

Analysts in South Korea said the North appears to have been testing a new solid-fuel, short-range ballistic missile during weapons tests on May 4, on May 9 and on Thursday. The missile flew 150 miles on May 4 and 260 miles on May 9.

After the North’s tests in May, South Korean and United States officials shied away from publicly identifying the projectiles as a new ballistic missile, an apparent attempt not to give the North the attention it seeks through short-range missile tests.

One of the two missiles launched on Thursday traveled 428 miles, indicating that the North was making quick progress on the new missile.

Yet it was not the range of the missile but its looks that alarmed analysts in the region.

After studying the photos North Korea released from the tests in May, South Korean and United States analysts said the missile looked like a copy of Russia’s Iskander short-range ballistic missile. An Iskander-like missile would be a potent new addition to the North’s growing fleet of ballistic missiles.

Solid-fuel and road-mobile missiles like the Iskander are easier to transport and hide, and they take less time to prepare for launching. The Iskander is capable of carrying nuclear warheads — the North is believed to have 30 to 60 — and can also be maneuvered during its ballistic trajectory.

These characteristics make such a missile harder to track and intercept, presenting a potentially deadly threat not only to South Korean and American troops based here, but also to the United States warships that would bring reinforcements should war break out on the Korean Peninsula, missile experts say.

“This means that North Korea can increase survivability of its missiles by continuously moving them, hiding them in tunnels, warehouses, and even highway underpasses,” the North Korea analyst Duyeon Kim and the missile expert Melissa Hanham wrote in a recent report.

“One, it is difficult to predict where the missile will land and intercept it before it does,” they added. “Two, it is difficult to detect exactly where the missile came from, meaning that North Korean units might be able to launch more missiles before their location is detected and neutralized by South Korea or the United States.”

North Korea has yet to renege on the moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests that Mr. Kim declared in April 2018.

In the past, the United States has tended to give far less attention to short-range tests by the North than to its long-range launches, rarely reacting to them with new sanctions.

Mr. Trump has sounded as if he was dismissing the May tests, calling them not “anything major,” although short-range missiles threaten American soldiers and citizens living in South Korea, as well as the local population.

North Korea responded by launching the missile again on Thursday on an extended range. And Thursday’s tests apparently left no doubt among South Korean officials that the North’s efforts were more serious than previously assessed, prompting them to formally call the weapon a new ballistic missile.

North Korea appears to have timed its latest tests to apply political pressure on the United States and South Korea in future negotiations, said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul.

But North Korea also “tests weapons to maintain and improve its military capabilities while addressing domestic political legitimacy concerns through shows of strength,” Mr. Easley said. “North Korea continues its development of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, including missiles and submarines.”

Source: NYT

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