SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired three more missiles Thursday, including an intercontinental ballistic missile, the South Korean and the Japanese governments said, continuing to raise tensions a day after it launched a record of at least 23 missiles in a 24-hour period.
Concerns that one of the missiles might fly over Japan prompted the government to activate its early warning system, urging residents in the northern prefectures of Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata to take cover inside or underground. Officials later said that the missile did not fly over Japan and that it disappeared over the water.
North Korea has escalated its weapons tests and fiery rhetoric as the United States and South Korea continue large-scale joint military exercises this week. The tests are seen as an effort by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to develop his regime’s nuclear arsenal, pressure the U.S. to ease crippling sanctions and gain international acceptance as a nuclear state.
The long-range ballistic missile was fired toward the sea at 7:40 a.m. (6:40 p.m. Wednesday ET) from the Sunan area in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. An hour later, North Korea fired two suspected short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea from the Gaechon area of South Pyongan province.
Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, issued a statement saying Washington strongly condemns North Korea’s ICBM test and that President Joe Biden and his national security team are assessing the situation in close coordination with allies and partners.
“This launch, in addition to the launch of multiple other ballistic missiles this week, is a flagrant violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region,” she said.
Watson said the U.S. will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of America and its allies.
The South Korean military said that it had strengthened surveillance and monitoring in close cooperation with the U.S. and that it was maintaining military readiness for all situations.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said one of the missiles reached an altitude of 1,242 miles and flew 466 miles, landing in waters west of Japan. It may have been a mid- to long-range missile, he said.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff provided similar numbers, saying the missile reached an altitude of 1,193 miles and flew 472 miles at about Mach 5.
North Korea last tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in March, its first such test since 2017. U.S. and South Korean officials say the country is also preparing for its seventh nuclear test, which would also be the first since 2017.
Early last month, North Korea sent an intermediate-range ballistic missile soaring over Japan in its longest-ever weapons test. The nuclear-capable missile has the range to reach the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
Tensions had already risen Wednesday when South Korea responded to North Korea’s barrage by firing three air-to-surface missiles of its own. The two countries’ missiles landed in international waters across their disputed sea border but not on their actual territories.
South Korea is in a national mourning period after the Halloween crowd crush in Seoul that killed 156 people. President Yoon Suk-yeol’s government has been criticized for the police failure to prevent the tragedy.
In addition to improving its military capabilities, the missile tests also serve North Korea’s political purposes, said Leif-Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“From Pyongyang’s perspective, the Yoon administration’s unpopularity appears as an opportunity to coerce the South Korean public into opposing security cooperation with Washington,” he said by email. “Meanwhile, firing over Japan can be interpreted as a threat not to be involved with the security of the Korean Peninsula.”