SEOUL: North Korea on Thursday conducted what appeared to be its second failed test in a week of a powerful medium-range missile that experts warn could be operationally deployed as early as next year.
South Korean and US military monitors said the missile — believed to be an intermediate-range Musudan — exploded shortly after take-off at around 6:30 am Pyongyang time (2200 GMT Wednesday).
The attempted launch came just hours before the start of the third US presidential debate — a timely reminder of the challenge North Korea’s fast-moving nuclear weapons program will pose to the next occupant of the White House.
It also followed a meeting in Washington between the US and South Korean defense and foreign ministers, at which US Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that any use of nuclear weapons by the North would be “met with an effective and overwhelming response”.
It was the second failed launch in less than a week of the Musudan, which has a theoretical range of anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometers. The lower estimate covers the whole of South Korea and Japan, while the upper range would include US military bases on Guam.
The US and its two key Asian allies all condemned the latest launch as a clear violation of UN resolutions banning the North from using ballistic missile technology.
“Our commitment to the defense of our allies, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, in the face of these threats, is ironclad,” said Pentagon spokesman Gary Ross.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military was “fully prepared” for further provocations, while Japan vowed to “step up pressure” on North Korea.
The Musudan missile has now been tested eight times this year — but only once successfully, flying 400 kilometers before plunging into the Sea of Japan (East Sea).