According to reports from multiple major news outlets, the South Korean military says North Korea attempted a missile launch, which is believed to have failed. Such a missile launch would not be unprecedented, as the North Korean state has done so repeatedly in the past, and as BBC News details, has conducted nuclear tests as well. However, this latest news comes in the midst of escalating tensions between North and South Korea, and thus between North Korea the United States, the South's key geopolitical ally.
It also comes hot on the heels of a North Korean military parade which included what appeared, at least, to be a trio of intercontinental ballistic missiles, perhaps the U.S.'s foremost concern about the authoritarian state's military capabilities. North Korea is one of nine countries on Earth with nuclear weapons in its arsenal, and is by leaps and bounds the most brutal and despotic of the lot.
According to Reuters, South Korea's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff released a statement saying the North attempted a test in the Sinpo region, along the country's east coast, but it's believed to have failed.
North Korea has defiantly attempted another missile test, but the launch appears to have ended in failure https://t.co/q8FLbvPpXb— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) April 15, 2017
According to ABC News, a U.S. official says the missile exploded just after launch. Specifically, in fact, it reportedly "exploded immediately" after lifting off, putting an instant halt to the test, which was almost surely intended as a show of force and intimidation.
Isolated from recent events, it's no surprise that the attempted missile test took place when it did. Saturday's massive military parade coincided with the birthday of North Korea's founding dictator, Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong-un. It's one of the biggest days on the North Korean calendar, and there was another missile test around the same time last year. Just like this year's attempt, it reportedly failed.
Vice President Mike Pence is currently traveling to the South Korean capital of Seoul as part of his schedule 10-day Asian swing next week, and is still en route despite the failed missile test. According to Washington Post Tokyo bureau chief Anna Fifield, the test took place about 20 minutes prior to Pence's departure from Alaska. It's Pence's first trip to Asia as vice president, reportedly intended to shore up and reinforce commitments to American allies in the region.