A day after launching an unprecedented missile barrage, North Korea started Thursday by firing three more, including a long-range missile that prompted emergency shelter orders in three Japanese prefectures.
Residents were warned to immediately take shelter indoors in Japan’s Miyagi, Yamagata, and Niigata prefectures. Television broadcasts in some parts of the country were interrupted by emergency alerts.
Japan’s emergency broadcast system initially said the North Korean missile flew over and past Japanese territory, but defense officials later retracted that claim. Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said officials lost track of the missile while it was flying over the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
The long-range missile flew about 760 kilometers, but failed following its second stage separation, according to military officials quoted in South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
The United States “strongly condemns” the intercontinental ballistic missile launch and vowed to “take all necessary measures” to ensure the safety of the U.S. homeland, South Korea, and Japan, according to a National Security Council statement.
The U.S. State Department also condemned the launch as a “clear violation” of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which ban any North Korean ballistic missile activity.
“Together, with the international community, we call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocations and engage in sustained and substantive dialogue,” read a statement from State Department spokesperson Ned Price, using an abbreviation for North Korea’s official name.
Later Thursday, North Korea sent two more short-range missiles into the ocean, South Korean and Japanese defense officials said.
North Korea has launched at least 27 missiles, along with more than 100 rounds of artillery, since early Wednesday, as it continues to display its anger over ongoing U.S.-South Korea military drills.
North Korea aimed three of Wednesday’s launches toward South Korea, triggering alerts on televisions in the South and air raid sirens on an island off the coast.
In response, South Korea’s military on Wednesday said its warplanes launched three missiles north of the de facto sea border to demonstrate South Korea’s “capability and readiness to strike the enemy with precision.”
Neither country had sent missiles across the Northern Limit Line since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War; on Wednesday they both did within hours of each other.
North Korea has fired more than 50 ballistic missiles this year — a record — but until Wednesday none had been launched toward South Korean territory or resulted in public air raid alerts.
The developments further raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula, where both sides have increased displays of military strength.
Earlier this week, North Korea threatened “powerful follow-up measures” if the United States and South Korea do not stop their ongoing military exercises.
North Korea says it views the drills as preparation to invade. It has long used them as occasions to show off its own military capabilities. The United States and South Korea say the drills are defensive.
South Korean and U.S. officials have for months warned that North Korea is in the final stages of preparations for what would be its seventh nuclear test since 2006.
North Korea has many possible motivations for conducting weapons tests, including developing new capabilities, demonstrating deterrence, and signaling resolve to its own people. Many analysts say the latest barrage has a demonstration component.
North Korea “may relish international anxiety in the lead up to its next nuclear detonation, believing that greater global attention will hasten begrudging acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear weapons state,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said by email.
“In the meantime, its missile tests improve military capabilities and serve political purposes,” he said.