How to decipher a North Korean missile test in just 72 hours

On the morning of March 6th, local time, at least four missiles were prepped for launch in North Korea. The missiles were transported to a field, and hefted upright in truck-mounted canisters. Lined up in a row against a backdrop of mountains, the engines fired and the missiles took off almost but not quite simultaneously, trailing skirts of flames behind them. They flew about 620 miles to splash down in the Sea of Japan — some of them falling less than 200 miles from Japan’s northwest shore.

The test launch escalated rising military tensions already heightened by ongoing US and South Korean military exercises. On Monday evening, the US started its deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense battery in South Korea — angering both North Korea and China; North Korea threatened to retaliate with nuclear weapons if either the US or South Korea fires even “a single flame” inside its borders. And Chinese news media warned that deploying THAAD in South Korea could ignite an arms race.

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