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North Korea is figuring out how to launch ballistic missiles

A missile launched toward Japan by the reclusive nation soared to new heights, achieving a technological advance after a series of failures.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks at a rocket warhead tip in May. Photo by KCNA/Reuters

North Korea launched what appeared to be an intermediate-range missile towards the direction of Japan reaching new heights before it plunged into the sea, a technological advance for the isolated state that comes after a five test failures in a row.

Just two hours after a similar test failed, the missile managed to cover 250 miles on Wednesday, more than halfway towards the southwest coast of Japan's main island of Honshu, according to South Korea's military.


Recent missile launch attempts and earlier nuclear tests show continued defiance of international warnings and a series of UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions, which North Korea rejects as an infringement of its sovereignty.

Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani said the second missile reached an altitude of 620 miles, indicating North Korea had made progress.

"We don't know whether it counts as a success, but North Korea has shown some capability with IRBMs (intermediate range ballistic missiles)," he told reporters in Tokyo. "The threat to Japan is intensifying."

Reclusive North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. The North regularly threatens to destroy Japan, South Korea and the South's main ally, the United States.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye denounced the test.

"The North Korean regime must realize that complete isolation and self-destruction await at the end of reckless provocation," she said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also decried what he called North Korea's "provocative actions."

"These repeated provocative actions … undermine international security and dialogue," Stoltenberg said in a statement, calling for North Korea to "fully comply with its obligations under international law, not to threaten with or conduct any launches using ballistic missile technology and to refrain from any further provocative actions."


The first missile was launched from the east coast city of Wonsan, possibly using mobile launchers from the same area where previous tests of intermediate-range missiles were conducted, a South Korean official said.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency, quoting a government official, said the first missile disintegrated mid-air after a flight of about 95 miles, making it the fifth straight unsuccessful attempt in the past two months to launch a missile that is designed to fly more than 1,800 miles and could theoretically reach any part of Japan and the US territory of Guam.

In Seoul, South Korea's presidential office said a national security meeting was convened to discuss the latest missile launches. Japan indicated after the first launch that it would protest strongly because it violated UN resolutions, even though the launches posed no immediate threat to Japanese security.

The UN Security Council, backed by the North's main diplomatic ally, China, imposed tough new sanctions in March after North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and launched a long-range rocket that put an object into space orbit. North Korea has conducted a series of tests since then that it claimed showed progress in nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile capabilities, including new rocket engines and simulated atmospheric re-entry.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying addressed the recent launch while speaking to reporters at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

"At present, the situation on the peninsula remains very complex and severe. We think that the relevant party should avoid doing anything to further worsen tensions," she said.

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