North Korea Launches Ballistic Missile Off East Coast

North Korea launched a ballistic missile off its east coast on Sunday, according to South Korean and Japanese officials.

The Joint Chief of Staff of South Korea confirmed the launch on Sunday morning but provided no further details. The launch was also confirmed by the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office, the news agency Associated Press reported.

The launch was reported three days after North Korea stated that it tested a “high-thrust solid-fuel engine” for a new strategic weapon, a breakthrough that might allow it to have a more mobile, harder-to-detect arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

North Korea in recent months has conducted a series of nuclear-capable ballistic missile tests, including the launch of its longest-range liquid-fueled Hwasong-17 ICBM last month, intended to carry multiple warheads.

AP reported that some experts say North Korea would eventually use an expanded arsenal to seek sanctions relief and other concessions from the United States.

While, some experts speculate North Korea already has functioning nuclear-tipped missiles that can hit the entire U.S., given the number of years it has spent on its nuclear program, others say the country is still years away from acquiring such weapons, saying it has yet to publicly prove it has a technology to protect warheads from the harsh conditions of atmospheric reentry.

But the nuclear attack capability of North Korea remains unknown, as all its intercontinental ballistic missile tests in recent years have been conducted at a steep angle to avoid neighboring countries, the news agency reported.

The United States and South Korea have expanded their regular military drills and pushed to further bolster their combined defense capability in the face of North Korea’s advancing nuclear program. North Korea has threatened to use nuclear weapons preemptively in potential conflicts with the United States and South Korea, and the U.S. military warned the North that the use of nuclear weapons “will result in the end of that regime.”

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