The Cable

North Korea’s Latest Missile Test Failed ‘Within Seconds’

But no one is breathing sighs of relief.

sk launch

North Korea upped the military ante with another missile test — though this time the test failed. On Wednesday, the Hermit Kingdom attempted to fire another missile that exploded “within seconds of launch” the U.S. Pacific Command said. Despite the failure, the test indicates North Korea is stubbornly inching its missile program forward, raising tensions with the United States and its Asian allies.

“South Korea and the U.S. are aware of the missile launch and to their knowledge North Korea’s missile was not successfully launched,” the South Korean defense ministry said in a statement Wednesday. The defense ministry did not clarify what type of missile North Korea attempted to fire. The missile launch took place near Kalma, on North Korea’s east coast.

The attempted launch Wednesday is the latest in a series of launches Pyongyang used to probe U.S. President Donald Trump’s fledgling administration and assert itself in east Asia. Security experts worry the flurry of launches could indicate new advancements in North Korea’s missile programs in tandem with its nuclear weapons program.

During his trip to Asia last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned the United States would consider preemptive strikes against North Korea if Pyongyang’s threat to Washington and its Asian allies grew too big. The Trump administration is also considering tightening the sanctions noose around North Korea further to curb its military developments, Reuters reported Tuesday.

On Sunday, North Korea announced it successfully tested a new high-thrust engine that could help the country successfully develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). North Korea made strides in its ICBM program in recent years, but experts believe it’s still a long way from fully developing one. On March 6, North Korea fired four missiles that fell some 300 miles off the coast of Japan.

“This is a direct challenge to the international community and a grave violation,” acting South Korean President Hwang Kyo-ahn said after the March 6 launch. “I’d say the consequences of the Kim Jong Un regime having nuclear weapons will be horrible,” he added.

North Korea conducted two nuclear testes and 24 missile tests in 2016.

Wednesday’s launch comes as the U.S. and South Korean militaries embark on a huge annual military exercise in the region that prompted sharp rebuke from the North Korean government. Regional experts say the uptick in missile tests could be in response to the exercise.

The United States began deploying Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile systems to South Korea in late February to counter the threat. The move sparked protest from Beijing, showcasing the complicated security landscape the Trump administration must navigate in Asia.

North Korea reportedly has two types of missiles, the KN-14 and KN-08, that could potentially reach the U.S. mainland. Neither missile has ever been tested.

Photo credit: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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