South Korea’s Ministry of Defense has reported that North Korea launched three short-range guided missiles off its east coast on Saturday. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a South Korean defense official said that “All missiles launched fell into the sea.”
North Korea has been relatively quiet in recent weeks, after a period of bellicosity, in which it threatened nuclear strikes on the United States. It had also threatened to launch a medium-range missile, the Musudan, which had also been deployed along its coast. In fact, the Musudan have been quietly withdrawn.
Pyongyang regularly launches short-range missiles—the most recent tests were in March—and analysts note that Saturday’s action is far less provocative than feared. There is speculation that the move was a designed to save face for the leadership, with a demonstrable show of action. “By launching the short-range missile the North wouldn’t provoke countries surrounding them, but can tell its people that they have carried out a serious threat against the U.S.,” said analyst Cheong Seong-chang.
While North Korea was bellicose even by its own standards in April, until Saturday the only significant action to emerge from the tension was the closure of the Kaesong industrial complex, which had increasingly become a burden for South Korean and Chinese investors. However, analysts at the time had feared that Pyongyang would conduct a major test of missiles capable of reaching its neighbors, or even US troops stationed on Guam.
At one point, Tokyo had deployed a Patriot antimissile battery on the grounds of its Defense Ministry in Central Tokyo. Interestingly, Tokyo had recently sent an envoy to Pyongyang.