North Korea conducted a failed missile test Thursday — its second in a week — of what was believed to be a powerful medium-range Musudan, the U.S. and South Korea said.
Such a weapon could threaten military installations on Guam and the U.S. nuclear bombers deployed there that play a key role in deterrence on the Korean Peninsula.
Some experts have warned that the Musudan could become operational as early as next year amid the North’s ramped up missile tests.
The U.S. Strategic Command said the failed launch at occurred at 6:30 a.m. North Korean time near the northwestern city of Kusong. The missile failed immediately after launch, Reuters reported.
“We strongly condemn this and North Korea’s other recent missile tests, which violate U.N. Security Council resolutions explicitly prohibiting North Korea’s launches using ballistic missile technology,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross said in a statement, adding that the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan remains “ironclad.”
The latest test came amid a flurry of activity by the U.S. and its allies as they seek to rein in the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
Speaking at the start of talks between the top U.S. and South Korea diplomats and defense officials Wednesday in Washington, U.S. defense chief Ash Carter warned that any attack on American allies or use of nuclear weapons by North Korea would be met with an “overwhelming” U.S. response.
“Make no mistake, any attack on America or our allies will not only be defeated, but any use of nuclear weapons will (be) met with an overwhelming and effective response,” he said.
This year, the North has conducted two nuclear tests — including its most powerful yet — and 23 missile tests, deepening concern that is moving closer to having a nuclear-tipped missile that could hit the U.S. mainland.
While it remains unclear if Thursday’s missile was a Musudan, such a test would be the eighth of the weapon this year. Just one of those tests was a success, and all were breaches of U.N. resolutions prohibiting the isolated nation’s use of ballistic missile technology.
In June, the North test-fired what appeared to be two Musudans. The first failed, but the second shot traveled 400 km, more than halfway toward the southwest coast of Japan. It reached an altitude of 1,000 km — enough to give its warhead a range of more than 3,000 km.
Thursday’s missile test also came as Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump clashed with his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, over nuclear weapons and security issues in the third and final presidential debate.
Trump reiterated his stance that the U.S. is on the losing side of its security deals with South Korea and Japan. The GOP nominee has said that he will remove troops from the Asian allies unless they pay for the stationing of U.S. forces — a move that experts say will leave the two countries exposed to North Korean nuclear threats.
“As far as Japan and other countries, we are being ripped off by everybody,” Trump said during the debate. “We are spending a fortune doing it — they have a bargain of the century.”
In an analysis by the influential 38 North website released Monday, the North Korean-watching blog said that Pyongyang could have an operational Musudan by next year.
Such a weapon could threaten military installations on Guam and the U.S. nuclear bombers that play a key role in deterrence on the Korean Peninsula.
The report came after an apparent failed test of a Musudan on Saturday. U.S. officials said that missile also exploded shortly after launch.
Experts say that despite the spate of failed tests, the North is making progress with the Musudan and in its overall missile program.
“The North Koreans aren’t simply repeating old failures,” John Schilling, an aerospace engineer and expert on North Korea’s missile program, said in the 38 North report.
“If they continue at this rate, the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile could enter operational service sometime next year — much sooner than had previously been expected,” he added.
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