tested what could be its largest seabound ICBM on Thursday in what its neighbors’ military officials said would be the first such test since 2017, upping the ante in a pressure campaign aimed at forcing the United States and other rivals to consider it accept nuclear power and lift crippling sanctions.
According to CBS News’ Lucy Craft, officials in Tokyo and Seoul said it appears to be a new breed of ICBM.
The launch that extended North Korea’scame after the US and South Korean militaries said the country was preparing a flight of its largest-ever ICBM.
The South Korean military responded with live-fire drills of its own missiles fired from land vehicles, planes and a ship, underscoring a resurgence of tensions as nuclear talks remain frozen. It confirmed readiness to conduct precision strikes against North Korea’s missile launch sites and command and support facilities.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the north’s ICBM, which was launched from the Sunan area near the capital Pyongyang, flew 670 miles and reached a maximum altitude of over 3,850 miles. The missile was apparently launched at a high angle to avoid reaching Japanese territorial waters.
Japan’s Deputy Defense Minister Makoto Oniki said the flight data pointed to a new type of ICBM.
“Even if the international community reacts to itNorth Korea has forced its missile launches, which could unilaterally escalate the provocations,” Oniki said.
“It is an unforgivable recklessness. We strongly condemn the act,” said Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida after his arrival in Belgium.
CBS News’ Craft reports that he also said additional sanctions against Pyongyang are on the table in coordination with Washington and Seoul.
The missile flew 71 minutes before possibly touching down near Japanese territorial waters off the island of Hokkaido, Tokyo’s chief cabinet officer Hirokazu Matsuno said. Japan may be looking for debris in its exclusive economic zone to analyze the north’s technology, he said. The Japan Coast Guard issued a warning to ships in nearby waters, but there were no immediate reports of damage to boats or aircraft.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, during an emergency National Security Council meeting, criticized North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for breaking a self-imposed moratorium on ICBM testing and posing a “serious threat” to the region and the broader international community.
The United States strongly condemns the North’s launch, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, calling it a “blatant violation” of UN Security Council resolutions that could destabilize the region’s security.
“The door of diplomacy has not closed, but Pyongyang must immediately halt its destabilizing actions. The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and the Republic of Korea and Japanese allies,” she said, referring to South Korea’s formal name.
After a highly provocative spate of nuclear explosives and ICBM tests in 2017, Kim unilaterally suspended such tests in 2018 before meeting with then-US President Donald Trump for the first time.
Analysts say North Korea’s string of weapons tests reflects a determination to cement its status as a nuclear power and wrest much-needed economic concessions from Washington and others from a position of strength.
Kim may also feel the need to showcase his military accomplishments to his home audience and mobilize loyalty while grappling with a broken economy made worse by pandemic border closures.
“Despite economic challenges and technical setbacks, the Kim regime is determined to improve its missile capabilities,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “It would be a mistake for international decision-makers to think that the North Korean missile threat can be shelved while the world deals with itand Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
Biden’s approach questioned
The Biden administration’s past passive approach to North Korea while it focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a deepening rivalry with China leaves more room for the North to step up its testing activities, some experts say. So far, government action on North Korea has been limited to largely symbolic sanctions imposed over the latest tests and offers of open talks that were quickly rejected by Pyongyang’s leadership.
There are views in Seoul that Washington is falling back on the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” policy of ignoring North Korea until it gets serious about denuclearization, although that approach has been criticized for neglecting an increasing nuclear threat.
It was North Korea’s 12th round of weapons launches this year and came after it fired suspected artillery pieces into the sea on Sunday.
The North has also tested a host of new missiles, including a purported hypersonic weapon and the first launch since 2017 of an intermediate-range missile with the potential to reach Guam, a key US military center in the Pacific.
It also conducted two medium-range tests in recent weeks from Sunan, where the country’s main airport is located, which the US and South Korean military say included components of the North’s largest ICBM. The Allies had said the missile, which the North calls Hwasong-17, could soon be tested for full range.
These tests followed another launch by Sunan last week. However, the South Korean military said the missile likely exploded shortly after launch. Details of the explosion and the possibility of damage in the area are not yet known.
North Korea’s official media insisted that the two successful tests were aimed at developing cameras and other systems for a spy satellite. Analysts say the North is clearly trying to simultaneously resume ICBM testing and acquire some level of space-based reconnaissance capability under the guise of a space launch to lessen international backlash to those moves.
The launch could potentially come on a major political anniversary in April, the birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.
The North’s earlier ICBMs showed potential range to reach the American mainland in three flight tests in 2017. The development of the larger Hwasong-17, first unveiled at a military parade in October 2020, may point to the goal of arming it with multiple warheads to overwhelm missile defenses, experts say.
The North last tested an ICBM in flight in November 2017, when the Hwasong-15 flew about 600 miles for about 50 minutes at a maximum altitude of 2,400 miles. It wasn’t immediately clear if the missile from the last test was the Hwasong-17.
Denuclearization talks with the US have stalled since 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for a comprehensive lifting of crippling US-led sanctions in exchange for a partial relinquishment of its nuclear capabilities.
Kim chaired a Jan. 19 meeting of the ruling Labor Party where Politburo members made a veiled threat to end its ICBM moratorium, citing US hostility. Eleven days later, the North conducted its first test since 2017 with an intermediate-range missile, signaling the resumption of major weapons testing.
The South Korean military has also uncovered signs that North Korea may be rebuilding some of the tunnels at its nuclear test site that were blown up in May 2018, weeks before Kim met Trump for the first time. The military did not say if it believes the North is restoring the site to resume nuclear testing.