North Korea returns to long-range launches with perhaps its biggest ICBM test


North Korea carried out what is believed to be its largest-ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test on Thursday, the South Korean and Japanese militaries said, marking the dramatic end of a self-imposed moratorium on long-range tests.

It would be the first full-capacity launch of the state’s largest nuclear-armed missiles since 2017, and represents a major milestone in the North’s development of weapons that may be capable of delivering nuclear warheads n anywhere in the United States.

The North’s return to major weapons testing also poses a new national security headache for US President Joe Biden as he responds to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and presents a challenge to the new South-South administration. Korean.

“This launch is a brazen violation of several UN Security Council resolutions and unnecessarily heightens tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. a statement condemning the launch. “The door is not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions.”

North Korea had suspended ICBM and nuclear tests since 2017, but defended the weapons as necessary for self-defense, and said US diplomatic overtures are insincere as long as Washington and its allies maintain ‘hostile policies’ such as sanctions and the military. drills.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a National Security Council meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on Thursday. (South Korea’s Presidential Blue House/Yonhap/The Associated Press)

Outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has made engagement with North Korea a major goal of his administration, condemned the launch as “a violation of the moratorium on ICBM launches that President Kim Jong-un himself has promised the international community.”

An “unacceptable act of violence”

It was also a serious threat to the Korean peninsula, the region and the international community, and a flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions, added Moon, who is due to leave office in May.

The latest missile launch was an “unacceptable act of violence”, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.

Thursday’s ICBM launch prompted South Korea to test its own smaller ballistic and air-to-surface missiles to demonstrate it has the “capability and readiness” to accurately strike missile launch sites, command and support facilities and other targets in North Korea if necessary, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Thursday’s launch would be at least North Korea’s 11th missile test this year, an unprecedented frequency.

New ICBM?

Japanese authorities said the launch appeared to be a “new type” of ICBM which flew for around 71 minutes at an altitude of around 6,000 kilometers and a distance of 1,100 kilometers from its launch site.

It landed inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, 170 kilometers west of northern Aomori prefecture, at 3:44 p.m. local time, the coast guard said.

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff set the missile’s maximum altitude at 6,200 kilometers and its range at 1,080 kilometers.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, speaks to reporters in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday. Kishida told reporters that a North Korean missile may have landed near Japanese territorial waters off the northern island of Hokkaido, calling the launch “an unforgivable recklessness”. (Kyodo News/Associated Press)

That’s further than North Korea’s last ICBM test in 2017, when it launched a Hwasong-15 missile that flew for 53 minutes at an altitude of about 4,475 kilometers and a range of 950 kilometers.

South Korea’s JCS said the latest missile was launched near Sunan, where Pyongyang International Airport is located. On March 16, North Korea launched a suspected missile from this airport which appeared to explode shortly after takeoff, the South Korean military said.

US and South Korean officials recently warned that North Korea is preparing to test its largest ICBM to date, the Hwasong-17.

This month, leader Kim said North Korea would soon launch several satellites to monitor the military movements of the United States and its allies.

“Serious progress”

Amid a flurry of diplomacy in 2018, Kim declared a self-imposed moratorium on ICBM and nuclear weapons testing, but suggested the North could resume such testing amid stalled denuclearization talks. .

This moratorium had often been touted as a success by former US President Donald Trump, who held historic summits with Kim in 2018 and 2019 but never secured a concrete pact to limit the North’s nuclear or missile arsenals. .

The looming prospect of possible nuclear tests, more joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and South Korea’s new conservative president mean “all the conditions are in place for a chain reaction of escalating steps”, he said. said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea.

“Although Biden would prefer to focus exclusively on the Ukraine crisis, it is likely that he will soon face tensions at the level of the crisis between the Koreas,” he said.