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Why North Korea may celebrate its founder's birthday with missiles

North Korea appears to be readying one or two intermediate-range missiles for a test on Friday, following a pattern of weapons tests this year that accompany its usual threats against the United States and South Korea.

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    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the ballistic rocket launch drill of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army (at an unknown location, in this undated file photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on March 11, 2016.
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North Korea may be planning to celebrate its founder's birthday on Friday by launching as many as two intermediate range ballistic missiles.

If North Korea launches the missiles, it will continue what is becoming a pattern of showy belligerence met with strong words and sanctions from world leaders.

US intelligence officials say North Korea doesn't yet have the technological capacity to build missiles that can reach the continental United States, but that does not stop the isolated country from trying. As a result, US defense forces continue to invest in building better defense technology against missiles, and the military is watching Friday's activities.

Multiple sources inside South Korea's government say they received reports of a mobile launcher carrying as many as two Musadan missiles toward North Korea's eastern coast. The government has not yet tested the Musudan missile, which is designed to fly as far as 1,800 miles, the South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

South Korea's defense ministry did not confirm these reports but said the nation's military has been on high alert ever since North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un threatened more tests this year. North Korea regularly threatens to bomb both its southern neighbor and the US, but the slate of tests this year have made the threats more palpably tense.

In March, the nation fired a ballistic missile off its coast into the ocean, the AP reported. The test followed similar exercises in January and February.

North Korea's announcement last week that it successfully tested a new long-range rocket engine with the potential to strike US shores can be doubted, but not ignored, the Associated Press reported. Taken as the most recent move in a pattern of ostentatious aggression that began in January, it shows a persistence that worries world leaders.

Many world leaders – and a leaky majority of the United Nations Security Council – say tougher sanctions are currently the only viable non-military action against North Korea's belligerent weapons strategy. The ire of such leaders, however, does not always produce the most effective sanction plan, The Christian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi wrote:

The problem that sanctions advocates see is that the multiparty negotiating process at the UN inevitably leads to a watered-down final product. That's particularly true when the topic is North Korea, they say, because China – a veto-wielding member of the Council – balks at any measure it believes might destabilize the Kim regime and lead to a collapsed state and humanitarian disaster at its door.

Some say tougher sanctions can work, but too little effort has gone toward ensuring they are properly carried out. North Korea's tests have attracted the attention of Congress and could lead to tighter enforcement.

"The Obama administration has been hitting the snooze button on sanctions, promising the next time to be tougher," Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, told The Christian Science Monitor. "Pretty much the whole Congress is saying, 'Enough of that.' "

This report contains material from Reuters.

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