North Korea on Saturday test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles, its neighbors said, in its fourth launch this week, prompting swift and strong condemnation from its rivals.

In an unusually sharp rebuke of North Korea’s weapons programs, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said North Korea’s “obsession” with nuclear weapons was deepening the suffering of its own people and warned of an “overwhelming response” from the South Korean and US militaries. use such a weapon.

“North Korea has not given up its obsession with nuclear weapons and missiles despite constant international objections over the past 30 years,” Yoon said during an Armed Forces Day ceremony. “The development of nuclear weapons will further submerge the lives of the North Korean people.”

“If North Korea tries to use nuclear weapons, it will face a decisive, stunning response from the South Korea-US alliance and our military,” Yun said.

A man walks past a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test at a train station in Seoul on September 29, 2022.

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

Yun’s comments could infuriate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has claimed that Yun’s government is led by “confrontational maniacs” and “gangsters”. Kim has already rejected Yun’s offers of large-scale aid and support plans in exchange for denuclearization.

North Korea’s tests this week are seen as a response to recent naval exercises between South Korea and the United States and other exercises involving Japan. North Korea views such allied military exercises as a rehearsal for an invasion and says they reveal “double standards” between the US and South Korea, as they call the North’s weapons tests a provocation.

On Saturday, the South Korean, Japanese and US militaries said they had detected two North Korean missile launches. South Korea said the takeoff took place from North Korea’s capital region.

South Korea and Japan estimate the missiles flew about 350-400 kilometers (220-250 miles) at a maximum altitude of 30-50 kilometers (20-30 miles) before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Toshiro Ino, Japan’s vice defense minister, said the missiles showed an “incorrect” trajectory.

Some observers say the reported low and “erratic” trajectory of the weapons suggests they were likely highly maneuverable nuclear missiles modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile. They say North Korea has developed missiles similar to the Iskander to defeat South Korean and US missile defenses and strike key targets in South Korea, including US military bases.

Five other ballistic missiles fired by North Korea three times this week show trajectories similar to those detected on Saturday.

“North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches are a serious provocation that undermines peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and the international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Toshiro Ino, Japan’s vice defense minister, called the launches “absolutely unacceptable,” adding that North Korea’s four rounds of missile tests in one week were “unprecedented.”

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches underscored the “destabilizing influence” of North Korea’s illicit weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.

On Friday, South Korea, Japan and the United States held their first trilateral anti-submarine drills in five years off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. Earlier this week, warships from South Korea and the United States conducted bilateral exercises in the area for four days. Both military exercises this week involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group.

North Korea’s missile tests this week also put into question US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to South Korea on Thursday, where she reaffirmed the United States’ “ironclad” commitment to the security of its Asian allies.

North Korea has carried out a record number of missile tests this year, in what experts say is an attempt to expand its weapons arsenal amid a standoff in nuclear diplomacy with the United States. Weapons tested this year included nuclear missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, South Korea and Japan.

In September, North Korea passed a new law that allows for the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain situations, revealing its escalating nuclear doctrine.

South Korean and US officials say North Korea has also completed preparations for its first nuclear test in five years.

Experts say Kim Jong-un ultimately wants to use his expanded nuclear arsenal to pressure the United States and other countries into recognizing his country as a legitimate nuclear power, a recognition he believes is necessary for the lifting of international sanctions and other concessions.