North Korea Launches ICBM after 3 Months, Following Threat over Alleged US Surveillance Flights

by Andrew Wright
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North Korea ICBM Test

On Wednesday, North Korea conducted its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test in three months. This comes two days after North Korea warned of “shocking” repercussions in response to what it perceived as intrusive U.S. reconnaissance operations near its territory.

Many analysts believe that North Korea has most likely launched its experimental, road-mobile Hwasong-18 ICBM. This solid-fuel weapon type is more challenging to detect and intercept compared to liquid-fuel ICBMs. Previously, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared the Hwasong-18 as his most potent nuclear weapon.

Launched from the North Korean capital region around 10 a.m., the missile travelled approximately 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and reached a peak altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,730 miles). It eventually landed in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, as reported by South Korean and Japanese assessments. They claimed the missile was fired at a steep angle, likely to evade neighboring nations.

The military of South Korea has labelled the launch as a “serious provocation” and asked North Korea to desist from additional launches. Hirokazu Matsuno, Chief Japanese Cabinet Secretary, criticised North Korea’s continuous missile tests as threats to Japan, regional, and international peace and safety.

During a tripartite phone call, the chief nuclear representatives of South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. agreed to tackle North Korean provocations stringently. They plan to enhance their cooperation to encourage a more robust international response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, stated Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.

This event transpired as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida were present at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. During an emergency meeting of South Korea’s security council convened via video in Lithuania, Yoon warned that North Korea would face more stringent international sanctions due to its illicit weapons programs.

The ICBM program of North Korea targets mainland U.S., while its short-range missiles are designed to strike South Korea and Japan, two key American allies in northeast Asia.

Since 2017, North Korea has performed numerous ICBM tests, but according to some experts, the nation still needs to master several technologies to possess operational nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching major U.S. cities.

The previous ICBM test by North Korea involved the first launch of the Hwasong-18 in April. After this test, Kim stated that the missile would enhance North Korea’s retaliatory abilities and instructed the expansion of his country’s nuclear arsenal to persistently inflict “extreme uneasiness and horror” on its adversaries.

The incorporation of solid propellants in missiles facilitates their transportation and concealment, thereby complicating the detection of their launches in advance. All previous ICBM tests by North Korea used liquid fuel.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, stated that the Wednesday’s launch seemed to be North Korea’s second flight-test of the Hwasong-18.

This week, following a month-long halt in weapons firing, North Korea launched the missile. Earlier this week, North Korea accused the United States of flying a military spy plane close to its territory.

Kim Yo Jong, Kim’s sister and senior advisor, warned the United States of “a shocking incident” on Monday night, alleging that a U.S. spy plane flew over the North’s eastern exclusive economic zone eight times earlier in the day. She claimed that North Korean warplanes were dispatched to chase away the U.S. aircraft.

The U.S. and South Korea dismissed these accusations from North Korea and urged it to abstain from actions or rhetoric that could escalate tensions.

Matthew Miller, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, stated on Tuesday that they continue to urge North Korea to refrain from escalatory actions. He added that North Korea’s recent claims that U.S. flights above its declared exclusive economic zone are unlawful lack legal basis, as international law ensures freedom of navigation and overflight in such regions.

North Korea has frequently made similar accusations about U.S. reconnaissance activities, but its latest statements coincide with increased tensions over North Korea’s aggressive weapons testing since the beginning of the previous year. Some observers speculate that North Korea intends to use an expanded weapons arsenal to extract larger concessions in future diplomacy with its adversaries.

“Kim Yo Jong’s aggressive statement against U.S. surveillance aircraft follows a North Korean pattern of exaggerating external threats to consolidate domestic support and justify weapons tests,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Pyongyang also strategically times its shows of force to disrupt perceived diplomatic coordination against it, like the ongoing meeting of South Korea and Japan’s leaders during the NATO summit.”

Kim Dong-yub, the professor, suggested that Wednesday’s launch was probably executed under the North’s previously planned weapons development programs to refine Hwasong-18 technologies, rather than as a direct response to the NATO meeting or the alleged U.S. spy plane flight.

The Hwasong-18 is part of a suite of advanced weapons that Kim Jong Un has promised to introduce to counter what he perceives as increasing U.S. military threats. His wish-list includes a multi-warhead ICBM, a spy satellite, and a nuclear-powered submarine. In late May, North Korea’s first spy satellite launch ended in failure, with the rocket carrying it crashing into the ocean shortly after liftoff.

Some experts predict that North Korea might intensify weapons testing around July 27, the date marking the 70th anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea refers to this date as “the V-Day” or “the War Victory Day.”

Duyeon Kim, an adjunct Senior Fellow with the Center for a New American Security, speculated, “Ahead of its Victory Day, Pyongyang could be escalating tensions to further foster domestic unity after the failure of its first spy satellite launch in May and then justify future provocations by launching a barrage of threats and stern rhetoric about U.S. spy planes.”

U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea from participating in any launches using ballistic technologies. However, China and Russia, both permanent members of the council, have thwarted the U.S. and others’ attempts to intensify U.N. sanctions on North Korea following its recent ballistic missile tests.

Andrew Wright reported from Tokyo.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about North Korea ICBM Test

What type of missile did North Korea test?

North Korea conducted a test of its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), believed to be the developmental, road-mobile Hwasong-18, a solid-fuel weapon.

What was the trajectory of the missile test?

The missile launched from the North Korean capital region, travelled approximately 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), and reached a peak altitude of 6,000 kilometers (3,730 miles) before landing in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

How have South Korea and Japan reacted to the missile test?

South Korea’s military termed the launch a “serious provocation” and urged North Korea to desist from additional launches. Japan criticized North Korea’s continuous missile tests as threats to its own safety and international peace.

What was North Korea’s alleged reason for the missile test?

The missile launch followed a week of accusations by North Korea against the United States, claiming that the U.S. flew a military spy plane close to its territory.

What are some possible international repercussions of this test?

The launch might lead to more stringent international sanctions against North Korea due to its illicit weapons programs. Also, it could escalate tensions and negatively impact future diplomatic negotiations with North Korea.

Has North Korea conducted such missile tests before?

Yes, since 2017, North Korea has conducted numerous ICBM tests. However, some experts believe that North Korea still needs to master certain technologies to possess operational nuclear-armed missiles capable of reaching major U.S. cities.

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