South Korea says North Korea has fired several cruise missiles into the sea

South Korea’s military says North Korea has fired several cruise missiles into waters off its western coast.

It marks the latest entry in a provocative run of weapons demonstrations in the face of deepening nuclear tensions with the United States, South Korea and Japan.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Wednesday that the US and South Korean militaries were analysing the launches. It did not immediately confirm the exact number of missiles fired or their specific flight details.

The launches marked North Korea’s second known launch event of the year, following a January 14 flight test-firing of the country’s first solid-fuel intermediate range ballistic missile, which reflected its efforts to advance its line-up of weapons targeting US military bases in Japan and Guam.

Koreas Tensions
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have increased in recent months as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continues to accelerate his weapons development and issue provocative threats of nuclear conflict with the United States and its Asian allies.

The US, South Korea and Japan in response have been expanding their combined military exercises, which Mr Kim portrays as invasion rehearsals, and sharpening their deterrence strategies built around nuclear-capable US assets.

In the latest tit-for-tat, North Korea said last week that it conducted a test of a purported nuclear-capable underwater attack drone in response to a combined naval exercise by the United States, South Korea and Japan, as it blamed its rivals for tensions in the region.

Cruise missiles are among a broad range of weapons North Korea has been testing in recent years as it attempts to build a viable nuclear threat against the US and its Asian allies.

Since 2021, the North has conducted several flight tests of what it describes as long-range cruise missiles, which it claims can cover ranges of up to 2,000 kilometres (1,242 miles) away and are nuclear-capable.

While North Korean cruise missile activities are not directly banned under UN sanctions, experts say those weapons potentially pose a serious threat to South Korea and Japan, as they are designed to fly like small airplanes and travel along landscape that would make them harder to detect by radar.

There are concerns that North Korea would dial up tensions in a US election year. Experts say the North would aim to increase its bargaining power as it plans for eventual negotiations with whoever wins the November presidential vote.

North Korea also has a long history of ramping up pressure on rival South Korea when it does not get what it wants from Washington.

At Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament last week, Mr Kim declared that North Korea is abandoning its long-standing goal of a peaceful unification with the South and ordered the rewriting of the North’s constitution to cement its war-divided rival as its most hostile foreign adversary.

He accused South Korea of acting as “top-class stooges” of the Americans and repeated a threat that he would use his nukes to annihilate the South if provoked.

Analysts say North Korea could be aiming to diminish South Korea’s voice in the regional nuclear stand-off and eventually force direct dealings with Washington as it looks to cement its nuclear status.

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