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North Korea has fired a ballistic missile towards the Baltic Sea, says Yonhap

(Bloomberg) — North Korea has test-fired a suspected ballistic missile, according to Yonhap News, adding to the barrage of launches over the past month, including two missiles designed to deliver a nuclear warhead to the mainland of the to bring to the US.

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The missile was fired toward waters east of the Korean peninsula on Sunday, Yonhap said, referring to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The missile is expected to have fallen outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, NHK reported, citing unnamed individuals associated with Japan’s Defense Ministry. Further details of the launch were not immediately available.

Kim Jong Un’s regime fired a so-called Hwasong-17 ICBM last week, hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol went to Japan for a summit to restore ties and improve security cooperation. Kim said the launch was intended to “instill fear in North Korea’s enemies” as the US ramps up its joint military exercises with South Korea.

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Large-scale military exercises by the US and its ally this month – dubbed “Freedom Shield” and lasting from March 13 to March 23 – aim to bolster defenses against Kim’s arsenal.

North Korea had already fired 12 ballistic missiles since Feb. 18, including two ICBMs and what appeared to be a new short-range ballistic missile designed to hit US bases in South Korea. The tests also included two cruise missiles fired from a submarine, which appeared to be another first.

Kim Yo Jong, the leader’s influential sister, has warned that Pyongyang would turn the Pacific Ocean into a “firing range” if the US continued with exercises. She also hinted that the state could begin testing whether its warhead designs can withstand the heat of reentering the atmosphere.

North Korea has demonstrated that its missiles can fly as far as the US mainland, but the question is whether the nuclear warheads can remain intact to reach their targets.

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Read: Japan needs South Korea to defend against Kim’s missiles

North Korea displayed its largest display of ICBMs at a military parade in Pyongyang in February. Kim oversaw the event, with his preteen daughter on hand to watch from a seat of honor. Her presence was a sign that a new generation is poised to take over the last unbroken family dynasty of the Cold War.

Last year, North Korea fired more than 70 ballistic missiles, the most during Kim’s decade in power, as it modernizes its arsenal and increases its ability to launch a nuclear strike against the US and its allies. Kim could even escalate tensions with his first nuclear test since 2017.

The North Korean leader pledged to exponentially expand his nuclear arsenal in the new year to suppress what he called hostile acts by the US and South Korea, in a policy-making speech published Jan. 1, where he left almost no room for a return to the long-aborted disarmament talks.

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The US and South Korea pledged to increase the scope of their joint exercises at a meeting of their defense ministers in Seoul in late January. The exercises had been scaled back or halted under former President Donald Trump, who hoped the move would ease his nuclear negotiations with the North Korean leader.

Those talks, however, yielded no concrete steps to wind down Pyongyang’s nuclear program, which only grew bigger as disarmament talks faltered. In recent months, Japan has joined some of the exercises that have also involved the US and South Korea, a move that has angered Pyongyang, which has responded with violence to express its displeasure.

(Updates with additional details and background)

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