North Korea conducts intermediate-range ballistic missile test ahead of South Korean elections

By Esther Muhozi
On 2 April 2024 at 12:30

In a recent display of military prowess, North Korea conducted a test-fire of what is presumed to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Tuesday, according to South Korean officials. This move follows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s announcement at the start of the New Year, declaring an end to his country’s efforts for reconciliation with South Korea.

The missile test has emerged as a significant concern just days before South Korea’s pivotal legislative elections, which are seen as a crucial test for conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol’s administration and its firm stance against the North.

CNN.com reports that Pyongyang has not yet made any statements regarding the suspected missile test. This development is particularly noteworthy as it precedes the South Korean legislative elections set for April 10, serving as a critical indicator of public support for President Yoon, who has been vocal about his tough approach towards North Korea during his tenure.

The recent missile test is part of a series of provocative actions by North Korea, which has intensified its weapons tests and military exercises following years of international sanctions tied to its nuclear weapons program.

On March 19, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) disclosed that North Korea had tested a solid-fueled rocket engine for a new type of intermediate-range hypersonic missile. Kim Jong Un underscored the significance of this development, equating the importance of the intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) system to that of the country’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

The KCNA did not provide extensive details about the new hypersonic weapon. However, North Korea has previously announced tests involving a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), a sophisticated type of weapons capable of evading missile defenses due to its ability to maneuver at high speeds.

Amid these developments, North Korea has also conducted a slew of military drills, mirroring the joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, such as the annual Freedom Shield exercise aimed at countering North Korea’s nuclear threat. These exercises by Pyongyang have featured long-range artillery and multiple rocket launchers, posing a direct threat to key locations in South Korea, including the capital, Seoul.

The upcoming elections in South Korea are critical for President Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP), which, according to some polls, is trailing behind the opposition Democratic Party. Analysts suggest that a defeat for the PPP could weaken Yoon’s leadership.

Despite this, Professor Leif-Eric Easley of Ewha Womans University in Seoul believes that North Korea’s recent missile test is unlikely to significantly impact the election outcomes. He highlights that South Koreans are presently more concerned with domestic issues such as healthcare reform and economic difficulties.

Moreover, this missile test occurs as the international community braces for a trilateral summit in Washington, involving Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

This latest missile test by North Korea, coupled with its refusal to entertain any attempts by Japan for dialogue, as stated by North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, underscores the persistent tensions in the region and the complex web of geopolitical challenges facing the international community.

North Korea conducted a test-fire of what is presumed to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Tuesday.