Undated propaganda photo of dictator Kim Jong Un published by North Korea’s DPRK Today
Undated propaganda photo of dictator Kim Jong Un published by North Korea’s DPRK Today
Photo: DPRK Today

North Korea test-fired multiple short-range missiles early Tuesday morning, according to several reports, serving as a great reminder that there are plenty of other things that could destroy humanity beyond the coronavirus pandemic. Nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea, by choice or by accident, is still always a possibility.

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The cruise missiles were fired from both ground-based systems and fighter jets, with some traveling roughly 93 miles before landing in the Sea of Japan, according to the Associated Press. The planes were reportedly Sukhoi-class fighters made in Russia.

The new tests are North Korea’s fifth missile demonstrations of the year, according to the Wall Street Journal, but it’s the first time that cruise missiles have been tested in roughly three years. The U.S. has also continued its own missile tests, most recently firing a nuclear-capable ICBM about 4,200 miles across the Pacific Ocean back in early February.

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North Korea, which started testing nuclear weapons in 2006 and has demonstrated the ability to launch nuclear missiles halfway around the globe, announced on January 1, 2020, that it would no longer be negotiating with the United States about possible denuclearization. President Donald Trump participated in two photo-ops with dictator Kim Jong Un in 2018 and 2019, and the two seemed to genuinely hit it off on a persona level. But Kim never agreed to any serious concessions and has only used the meetings to legitimize his regime, the precise reason that previous U.S. presidents had refused to meet with the North Korean leader.

Trump has repeatedly insisted that the U.S. would be at war with North Korea if he hadn’t intervened, a position that largely ignores his repeated threats to destroy the country before he later started to play nice, showering Kim with praise and saying that the two world leaders “fell in love.”

As for the timing of the new tests from North Korea on Tuesday, there are a number of theories. One is that South Korea goes to the polls tomorrow for parliamentary elections, and Kim always likes to send a message to his southern neighbors. Another theory is that tomorrow is the birthday of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea who died in 1994, and these tests are a kind of replacement for a broader demonstration of force to commemorate the day. Kim Il Sung’s birthday is a public holiday in the country, though it’s unlikely many people will be on the streets given the coronavirus pandemic.

Strangely, North Korea’s leaders continue to insist to the outside world that there is no pandemic inside the country. DPRK Today, a state-run news outlet, is more than happy to report on South Korea’s death toll from the global health crisis. But Kim Jong Un refuses to release the number of possible cases in his own country.

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Unconfirmed reports from inside the country claim that 23 people have died of covid-19 in North Korea and dozens more were in quarantine as of a month ago. But with a strict clampdown on information coming from the country, no one outside of North Korea knows for sure.

One thing we do know? North Korea tested some cruise missiles today. Thanks for getting our anxiety up, guys.

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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