SEOUL: North Korea declared on Tuesday it had successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) — a watershed moment in its push to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the mainland United States.
Experts said the device could reach Alaska, and the launch, which came as Americans prepared to mark Independence Day, triggered a Twitter outburst from President Donald Trump who urged China to act to “end this nonsense once and for all”.
The North’s possession of a working ICBM — something that Trump has vowed “won’t happen” — would force a fundamental recalculation of the strategic threat posed by the isolated, impoverished state.
The “landmark” test of a Hwasong-14 missile was overseen by leader Kim Jong-Un, an emotional female announcer said on state Korean Central Television.
The broadcaster showed his handwritten order to carry out the launch, and pictures of him smiling in celebration, clenching his fist.
The rocket was “a very powerful ICBM that can strike any place in the world”, the announcer said, and “a major breakthrough in the history of our republic”.
In a statement the North’s Academy of Defence Science, which developed the missile, said it reached an altitude of 2,802 kilometres and flew 933 kilometres, calling it the “final gate to rounding off the state nuclear force”.
North Korea has made great progress in its missile capabilities since the ascension to power of Kim, who has overseen three nuclear tests and multiple rocket launches.
In response to the launch but before the announcement, Trump asked on Twitter: “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?”
Following the test, China and Russia jointly called for a moratorium on further North Korean missile and nuclear tests in exchange for an end to annual South Korea-US military exercises — a formula Washington and Seoul have rejected in the past.
‘All of Alaska’
The US Pacific Command confirmed the test and said it was a land-based, intermediate range missile that flew for 37 minutes before splashing down in the Sea of Japan, adding that the launch did not pose a threat to North America.
Moscow’s defence ministry called it medium-range in a statement to Russian news agencies. But Tokyo — in whose exclusive economic zone it came down — estimated its maximum altitude to have “greatly exceeded” 2,500 kilometres, prompting arms control specialist Jeffrey Lewis to respond on Twitter: “That’s it. It’s an ICBM. An ICBM that can hit Anchorage not San Francisco, but still.”
David Wright, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote on the organisation’s allthingsnuclear blog that the available figures implied the missile had “a maximum range of roughly 6,700km on a standard trajectory”.
“That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters: “This launch clearly shows that the threat has grown.”
The US, Japan and South Korea will hold a summit on the issue on the sidelines of this week’s G20 meeting, he added. “Also I will encourage President Xi Jinping and President Putin to take more constructive measures.”
Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2017