North Korea said on Monday it had launched a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile, the same weapon it had threatened to use against Guam, rekindling fears of nuclear testing.
Initially reported on Sunday by South Korean and Japanese authorities, the launch of the intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) was a first for the world. In total, North Korea carried out seven nuclear-capable missile tests this month, marking the first time a nuclear-capable missile of that size had been launched since 2017.
The United States is concerned that North Korea’s escalating missile tests could serve as a precursor to the resumption of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests, and it has threatened an unspecified response “designed to demonstrate our commitment to our allies,” according to a senior U.S. official speaking to reporters in Washington on Thursday.
The person added that this is not only about what they did yesterday; it’s about the fact that they’ve conducted a considerable number of tests in the last month, the person said, asking Pyongyang to participate in direct discussions with no preconditions.
North Korea has stated that it is open to diplomacy, but that the United States’ overtures are hampered by its support for sanctions, joint military drills, and arms buildups in South Korea and the area, among other things.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared his nuclear arsenal complete in 2018, following a frenzy of diplomacy that included summits with then-U.S. President Donald Trump. He also announced a suspension of nuclear testing and the launch of the country’s longest-range missiles.
North Korea said this month that it could resume its nuclear testing activities since the United States had shown no signs of abandoning its “hostile tactics” after discussions came to a halt in 2019. After talks came to a halt in 2019, Kim stated that he was no longer bound by the moratorium.
It is unclear whether intercontinental ballistic missiles (IRBMs) like the Hwasong-12 were included in Kim’s ban, but none have been tested since 2017.
Researchers say North Korea’s nuclear tests appear to be an attempt to gain worldwide support for its nuclear weapons programmes, whether through concessions or simply earning jaded acquiescence from a more distracted globe.
“The world’s diversion on other crises appears to be working to North Korea’s advantage right now,” says Markus Garlauskas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank and former US national intelligence officer for North Korea.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the recent flurry of North Korean missile tests was reminiscent of heightened tensions in 2017, when North Korea conducted multiple nuclear tests, launched its largest missiles, and drew threats of “fire and fury” from the United States. Moon said the recent flurry of North Korean missile tests was reminiscent of heightened tensions in 2017.
South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook paid a visit to his country’s Army Missile Command on Monday to assess the readiness of the command in the wake of the North Korean missile launches, according to a statement from the ministry.
As a result of the briefing, Suh stated that North Korea’s succession of missile test-fires, which included intermediate-range ballistic missiles, “represents a direct and significant threat to us as well as a grave risk to international peace and stability.” In order to respond swiftly to any scenario, we will maintain a complete military preparedness posture.
Nobuo Kisi, Japan’s Defense Minister, warned reporters that North Korea was escalating its provocation of the international community and that the country’s “amazing advancement” in missile capability “could not be permitted.”
Boosting missile capabilities
KCNA stated that the test on Sunday “proved the accuracy, safety, and operational effectiveness of the produced Hwasong-12 type weapon system,” according to the North Korean state news agency.
The United States was not mentioned in any of the state-run media coverage of the launch, and Kim was not reported to have been present. Earlier this month, North Korean officials stated that the tests were carried out for self-defense rather than to strike any specific country.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, promised ahead of the New Year that the country would strengthen its military capabilities in the face of international uncertainty generated by “hostile measures” by the United States and its allies.
In the past, North Korea has claimed that the Hwasong-12 is capable of transporting a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead,” and analysts estimate that it has a range of 4,500 kilometres (2,800 miles).
In August 2017, just hours after President Donald Trump warned the North that any threat to the United States would be met with “fire and fury,” the commander of the North’s Strategic Forces stated that the country was “seriously considering” launching four Hwasong-12 missiles at the same time toward Guam.
A total of six flight tests of the Hwasong-12 were conducted by North Korea in that year, with two of those tests taking place over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the missile launch on Sunday was carried out in a manner that ensured the safety of neighboring countries, and the test warhead was equipped with a camera that took images while it was in orbit.