North Korea failed to launch two intermediate-range ballistic missiles on Thursday, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said, mere hours after another missile crashed seconds after launch. This is the third in a string of unsuccessful weapons tests in the past three weeks.
The second failed missile was launched from the same east coast region as the first, which was launched earlier on Thursday. Both were believed to be Musudan missiles, which crashed into the sea after ignition. Hours later, North Korea attempted a second launch of the missile of the same type, which also failed.
Chinese news agency Xinhua cited a phone call from an unnamed Defense Ministry official, who said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), also called North Korea, launched the projectile around 6:40 a.m. local time from the Wonsan area.
“If confirmed, it would mark the DPRK’s second test-firing of a Musudan missile after the launch on April 15. South Korea’s military saw the April 15 launch as failure as the missile exploded in mid-air several seconds after liftoff. The DPRK had allegedly deployed two Musudan missiles in the Wonsan area. There has been no more Musudan missile found in the region.”
Thursday’s attempts bring the total failures of the DPRK to launch the Musudan to two in the past three weeks. The powerful Musudan missile, which has a range of 1,860 to 2,180 miles and is capable of reaching the United States like Alaska and Guam, has been deployed by the DPRK since 2007. The missile is fired from a mobile launcher, which makes it difficult to track, and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. It is currently one of the North’s most powerful missiles.
The launch failures are a potential embarrassment for Kim Jong-un, as they come just days before the Congress of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, the party’s first in 36 years. It could prove to be the country’s most important political assembly, and big changes are expected. The last time the Congress met was in 1980, when the country’s founder, Kim Il-Sung, was still alive and designated his son Kim Jong-Il as his successor at the meeting. The New York Times said bluster like this was expected.
“Outside analysts had expected a dramatic gesture like a Musudan launch, or possibly the country’s fifth nuclear test, in an attempt to burnish Mr. Kim’s image before the congress, which begins on May 6 and is widely seen as a platform for the young leader to bolster his grip on power.”
South Korean President Park Geun-hye has convened this year’s third security council meeting in response to the failed North Korean missile launch. President Park had said another nuclear test may be imminent, which she warns would bring more international sanctions on the isolated North.
After the DPRK’s previous Musudan failed missile test on April 15, Seoul and Washington quickly condemned the North, and the United Nations Security Council issued warnings that further economic sanctions would be brought against North Korea if it continued its provocations. North Korea is officially banned from testing ballistic missiles under international law. It remains unclear whether North Korea is capable of building nuclear warheads that are small and sophisticated enough to fit on a Musudan missile, the New York Times notes.
“North Korea has repeatedly threatened nuclear strikes against the United States in recent months, but it has never flight-tested a long-range missile. Officials and analysts in the region doubt it has built a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the American mainland. In recent weeks, however, Pyongyang has claimed a series of successes in testing various technologies needed to make an intercontinental ballistic missile.”
South Korean and American officials are reportedly investigating the cause of the missile failure.
[Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images]