North Korea Conducts Cruise Missile Tests Amid Calls for War Readiness
North Korea Conducts Cruise Missile Tests Amid Calls for War Readiness

North Korea fired multiple cruise missiles into waters off its western coast, South Korea's military reported Friday. The missile launches add to a series of provocative tests amid rising tensions with the United States, South Korea, and Japan. The timing of these launches coincided with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's visit to a shipyard in the west, where he emphasized the importance of strengthening the country's naval forces for war preparedness.

According to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, the US and South Korean militaries are currently analyzing the missile launches. This marks North Korea's fourth round of cruise missile tests in 2024. Specific details regarding the number of missiles fired and their range are not immediately available.

Kim's visit to the shipyard in Nampho follows a string of weapons demonstrations in January, which heightened tensions with neighboring countries. These demonstrations included tests of new cruise missiles designed for submarine launch. Kim has been vocal about his intentions to bolster North Korea's naval capabilities in response to perceived threats from the United States, South Korea, and Japan, who have increased their military cooperation in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea's official news agency did not specify the date of Kim's visit to Nampho but quoted him emphasizing the importance of naval strength for defending the country's maritime sovereignty. The agency mentioned that the warships under construction are part of a five-year military development plan outlined in 2021, which includes aspirations for advanced military assets such as nuclear-powered submarines and underwater-launched nuclear missiles.

During his inspection in Nampho, Kim received updates on the progress of naval projects and urged workers to complete them within the designated timeframe. South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesperson, Kim Inae, noted that this reported military inspection in Nampho may be the first of its kind, as the eastern shipyard of Sinpo has historically been the primary location for building advanced naval vessels like submarines.

Kim Jong Un's recent emphasis on naval capabilities also included the testing of a new nuclear-capable cruise missile, the Pulhwasal-3-31, intended for submarine launch. While North Korea has made significant advancements in land-based nuclear-capable missiles, experts believe that achieving Kim's naval ambitions will require substantial time, resources, and technological breakthroughs.

Despite concerns over escalating tensions, analysts believe that Kim's ultimate goal is to negotiate security concessions and sanctions relief from a position of strength. However, there remains a possibility of localized military provocations, particularly in disputed areas like the western sea boundary between North and South Korea.

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