SEOUL — North Korea fired a short-range, submarine-launched ballistic missile off its east coast on Saturday, hours after the United States warned that the country could carry out a nuclear test as soon as this month.
The missile, the first of its kind tested since October, was launched from waters near the coastal city of Sinpo and flew 372 miles, the South Korean military said. It was the North’s 15th missile test this year, a rapid pace by recent standards, and its second this week, taking place three days before Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korea’s president-elect, is scheduled to take office.
Analysts have warned that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is likely to order more weapons tests in the coming weeks, to develop the North’s missile and nuclear technology and to gain potential diplomatic leverage against Mr. Yoon and President Biden, who plan to meet in Seoul later this month.
On Friday, Jalina Porter, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said that North Korea was making preparations at its underground nuclear test site and could be ready to conduct its seventh nuclear test “as early as this month.”
Mr. Yoon is expected to take a hawkish stance on relations with the North compared with the departing president, Moon Jae-in, who brokered Mr. Kim’s ultimately unsuccessful talks with Donald J. Trump when he was president.
During the South Korean election campaign, Mr. Yoon called for more vigorous enforcement of sanctions against North Korea. Multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from developing and testing ballistic missile and nuclear weapons technology.
North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missile program is believed to pose a particularly acute threat because it could extend the range of the country’s nuclear arsenal. The deployment of submarine-launched missiles is also harder to detect in advance. They are among an array of new weapons that Mr. Kim has ordered his government to develop.
South Korean defense officials said the missile fired on Saturday appeared to have been launched from an actual submarine, unlike some tested in the past, which were believed to have been fired from underwater platforms. North Korea has only one known submarine capable of launching a ballistic missile, with a single launch tube, but it has been developing a new one with greater capabilities, according to the South Korean military.
North Korea has a naval base in Sinpo, which is home to its submarine-launched ballistic missile program.
In March, the North carried out its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, ending a moratorium on such tests that Mr. Kim announced before embarking on his direct diplomacy with Mr. Trump. Those talks stalled in 2019, as the two sides failed to reach an agreement about curtailing the North’s nuclear program or easing international sanctions.
During a military parade last month in Pyongyang, the North’s capital, Mr. Kim vowed to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal “at the fastest possible speed,” while asking North Koreans to brace themselves for a confrontation with external enemies “for a long period of time.”