North Korea launched a number of cruise missiles on Sunday, according to what the South Korean army announced, amid escalating tensions between it and its southern neighbor, which declared a “state of alert.”
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, “Our army detected cruise missiles launched near the waters surrounding the city of Sinpo in North Korea at 8:00” this morning, Sunday, local time (11 pm Saturday, GMT).
The statement did not specify the number of missiles fired by Pyongyang, but said that the South Korean and American intelligence services “are working to analyze this launch, and are closely monitoring North Korea's movements and other activities.” He added that South Korea “has enhanced preparedness operations.”
Last week, Pyongyang launched cruise missiles towards the Yellow Sea, west of the Korean Peninsula, saying that it was a new generation of strategic cruise missiles. The day after the launch of those missiles, the official North Korean News Agency reported that this test was part of “a continuous modernization process for the weapons system, and a regular and necessary activity.” She added that the experiment “did not have any impact on the security of neighboring countries, and had no relation to the regional situation.”
Unlike ballistic missiles that rely on space missile technology, tests of cruise missiles that fly in the atmosphere are not subject to the sanctions imposed by the United Nations on North Korea.
Tensions between the two Koreas have sharply worsened in recent months, as they abandoned major agreements signed in 2018 aimed at reducing tension, strengthened security measures on their borders, and conducted border military maneuvers.
The North Korean leader previously announced Kim Jong Un That South Korea is his country's “principal enemy.” He dissolved government agencies dedicated to reunification and contact with the South, vowing to declare war if the southern neighbor encroached on his country's territory “even by 0.001 mm.”
At the end of last December, Kim ordered the acceleration of military preparations for “a war that could start at any time.” He denounced a “continuous, uncontrollable crisis situation” that he said Seoul and Washington had begun with their joint military exercises in the region.
The tone rose in the South as well, as conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol warned that Seoul would respond “several times stronger” in the event of a provocation, noting the “overwhelming response capabilities” of his army. Seoul and Washington have repeatedly warned that any attack launched by Pyongyang will inevitably lead to the destruction of its regime.
In recent months, North Korea has intensified its tests on weapons banned by the United Nations. It launched a hypersonic missile powered by solid fuel, and fired artillery with live ammunition near the maritime border with the South, which necessitated issuing orders to take shelter on many South Korean islands close to the coast of North Korea. Seoul responded with counter-exercises in the same area, on the western coast of the Korean Peninsula.
Southern and Western officials and analysts expect Pyongyang to continue what they describe as “provocative measures” after it achieved great successes in developing ballistic missiles, strengthened cooperation with Russia and abandoned its decades-old goal of restoring peaceful unification with South Korea.