North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea Monday morning, its fourth test in less than a month.
“South Korea’s military detected two projectiles believed to be short-range ballistic missiles launched into the East Sea to the northeast from the Sunan Airfield in Pyongyang, North Korea, around 08:50 a.m. and 08:54 a.m.,” South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff told reporters Monday.
The missiles traveled about 236 miles and reached an altitude of about 26 miles, said South Korea’s military, which was analyzing details of the launch.
It was the fourth missile launch this year, following two self-claimed hypersonic missile tests on Jan. 5 and Jan. 11 and last Friday’s short-range ballistic missile that the secluded regime’s state news agency, KCNA, claimed was launched from a rail car.
Pyongyang’s consecutive showcases of its military capabilities came as the United States discussed sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear program.
“North Korea probably believes they pulled out a response from the U.S. by firing hypersonic missiles in the new year because the U.S. acted with new sanctions,” Moon Keun-sik, a military expert at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, told ABC News. “North Korea claims that ballistic missile test-launch is a part of the training, but it also acknowledges that their action is a UN violation.”
North Korea has said its weapons development is a rightful act of self-defense. The country blames the U.S. for escalated tensions.
“The DPRK's recent development of new-type weapon was just part of its efforts for modernizing its national defense capability. Nevertheless, the U.S. is intentionally escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring the DPRK's just activity to the UN Security Council,” KCNA said on Friday, citing North Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
North Korea expressed open discontent about the sanctions imposed last Wednesday on North Korean individuals and entities who support the country's ballistic-missile program.
“We could say that the situation has escalated as the United States took out the sanctions card in response to North Korea's recent missile test launch,” Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Seoul-based Dongguk University, told ABC News. “Through missile experiments, Kim Jong Un intends to highlight North Korea’s presence while the United States is mainly taking care of Ukraine issues, and at the same time maintain solidarity among their people.”
Some experts saw the recent tests as planned drills on North Korea’s side. Kim Jong Un announced at the 8th Party Congress in January 2021 that the country planned to strengthen its weapon systems, including hypersonic missiles.
“Pyongyang’s missile tests will take rounds and rounds for the next three years, not mainly intended to send a political message, which is only part of the motivation,” Bong Young-shik of Yonsei University told ABC News. “It would be a mistaken belief to think that the North Korea military can be bought out with massive immediate concessions because North Korea is moving on its own schedule by military capability.”
Analysts in South Korea agreed that North Korea was following its own schedule to ramp up military capabilities in a time when there's a slim chance of negotiating with other countries in person.
“North Korea is in the direction of enhancing the technical completeness of their missile program and knocking on the United States, trying to persuade them they should reach out to North Korea in any way,” Kim told ABC News.
It isn’t the first time North Korea has scaled up in its weapons experiments. Back in 2019, North Korea fired over 20 short-range ballistic missiles between May and November.
ABC News' Chae Young Oh contributed to this report.