SEOUL—North Korea launched two suspected cruise missiles on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, in what would be the

Kim Jong Un

regime’s fifth weapons test of the month.

The missiles were believed to be launched from an unspecified inland location, South Korea’s military said, without providing further details. North Korea’s state media didn’t immediately comment.

Cruise-missile launches aren’t covered by United Nations Security Council resolutions that govern Pyongyang’s weapons activity. The resolutions pertain to tests of North Korea’s ballistic missiles, which are initially rocket powered. That provides a lofty trajectory that can give a weapon intercontinental reach, versus cruise missiles, which are typically jet-engine propelled, flying at much lower altitudes and traveling shorter distances in general.

Before the Tuesday launch, the Kim regime had conducted four ballistic-missile tests. It showcased what it said was hypersonic technology, plus launched missiles from a train and from an airfield. North Korea has never started a new year with so many weapons tests.

Such military activity is a sovereign right, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said earlier this month. Mr. Kim, who recently attended his first weapons launch in nearly two years, has encouraged officials to keep strengthening the country’s military might.

Pyongyang’s recent series of ballistic-missile tests has drawn condemnation from the Biden administration, which recently blacklisted a handful of North Koreans involved in the regime’s arms program. The Kim regime criticized the move and accused the U.S. of intentionally raising tensions.

Ten years after taking power, Kim Jong Un faces what could be his toughest challenge yet. WSJ looks at how the North Korean leader is addressing the economic fallout from the pandemic, which has overshadowed weapons tests and affected relations with the U.S. Photo: STR/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

At a Politburo meeting last week, which Mr. Kim attended, North Korea suggested it might consider restarting long-range and nuclear-weapons tests, describing the U.S. threat as one that the country can no longer ignore. The Kim regime has refrained from such activity for more than four years.

The U.S. called on North Korea to cease provocations, abide by international law and find ways to de-escalate tensions, a Pentagon spokesman said at a Monday briefing. The Biden administration has repeatedly offered to meet with North Korea without preconditions. But Pyongyang has “shown no desire to move that forward,” the Pentagon spokesman said.

The U.S. and North Korea haven’t held formal denuclearization talks since October 2019.

In recent years, Pyongyang has done more than two dozen weapons tests, though the launches have focused on shorter-range technology. The advances have demonstrated increased accuracy, new launch systems and improved striking capability, weapons experts say.

North Korea is in the middle of its annual wintertime military exercises, which typically run from December to March. The shift to shorter-range weapons better equips the Kim regime for potential military conflicts near home, weapons experts say.

North Korea’s first weapons launch after

President Biden

took office was in March and involved two short-range cruise missiles. At the time, Mr. Biden said he didn’t consider the launch a provocation.

Write to Timothy W. Martin at

Understanding the North Korean Regime

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