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South Korea says North Korea fired ballistic missile towards its eastern waters

South Korea says North Korea fired ballistic missile towards its eastern waters

South Korea’s military said on Sunday that it has detected that North Korea fired at least one ballistic missile towards its eastern waters, adding to a torrent of weapons tests in recent months that have elevated tensions.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff did not immediately say what type of missile it was or how far it flew.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest in years, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un accelerating the expansion of his nuclear and missile programme, and flaunting an escalatory nuclear doctrine that authorises the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons.

The United States, South Korea and Japan have responded by increasing the visibility of their trilateral partnership in the region, and strengthening their combined military exercises, which Mr Kim has condemned as invasion rehearsals.

North Korea’s latest launch followed high-level security talks between American and South Korean officials in Washington over the weekend, where they agreed on plans to incorporate nuclear operation scenarios in their combined military exercises next year to cope with the North’s evolving threats, according to details announced by Seoul’s presidential office.

Shortly after the launch, North Korea’s Defence Ministry issued a statement condemning Washington and Seoul’s move to include nuclear operation scenarios in their joint drills, describing it as an open threat to potentially use nuclear weapons against the North and vowing to prepare unspecified “offensive countermeasures”.

The North Korean ministry also criticised the United States for increasingly deploying major military assets to South Korea in a show of strength, including strategic bombers and nuclear-powered submarines, which it claimed amounted to a “reckless military threat” that was destabilising the region.

In the face of North Korean threats, South Korea has been seeking stronger reassurances from the US that it would swiftly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to defend its ally in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack.

The North has test-fired more than 100 missiles since the start of 2022 as Mr Kim used the distraction caused by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine to speed up the expansion of his military nuclear programme, which he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.

Weapons that North Korea has tested in recent months have included intercontinental ballistic missiles which demonstrated a potential range to reach the US mainland, and a series of launch events the North described as simulated nuclear attacks on targets in South Korea.

Last month, North Korea also launched its first military reconnaissance satellite, which Mr Kim described as a crucial for monitoring US and South Korean military activities and enhancing the threat of his nuclear-capable missiles.

Washington and its allies have also expressed concerns about a potential arms alignment between North Korea and Russia.

They fear Mr Kim is providing badly-needed munitions to help Russian President Vladimir Putin wage war in Ukraine in exchange for Russian technology assistance to upgrade his nuclear-armed military.