North Korea has ‘likely more in store’ after missile test: US

Published March 26, 2022
This picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 25 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) walking near what state media report says a new type inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasongpho-17 of North Korea's strategic forces before its test launch in an undisclosed location in North Korea. — AFP
This picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 25 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) walking near what state media report says a new type inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasongpho-17 of North Korea's strategic forces before its test launch in an undisclosed location in North Korea. — AFP

SEOUL: North Korea likely has “more in store” after successfully test-firing its largest-ever intercontinental ballistic missile this week, a top White House official said on Friday.

Thursday’s launch was the first time Pyongyang has fired Kim Jong Un’s most powerful missiles at full range since 2017.

It was conducted under Kim’s “direct guidance”, and ensures his country is ready for “long-standing confrontation” with the US, state media outlet KCNA reported Friday.

“We see this as part of a pattern of testing and provocation from North Korea... we think there is likely more in store,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on board Air Force One.

The missile appears to have travelled higher and further than any previous ICBM tested by the nuclear-armed country — including one designed to strike anywhere on the US mainland.

State media photographs showed Kim, wearing his customary black leather jacket and dark sunglasses, striding across the tarmac in front of a huge missile, with other images of him cheering and celebrating the test launch with uniformed military top brass.

Known as the Hwasong-17, the giant ICBM was first unveiled in October 2020 and dubbed a “monster missile” by analysts.

It had never previously been successfully test-fired, and the launch prompted immediate outrage from Pyongyang’s neighbours and the United States.

“The missile, launched at Pyong­yang International Airport, travelled up to a maximum altitude of 6,248.5 km and flew a distance of 1,090 km for 4,052s before accurately hitting the pre-set area in open waters” in the Sea of Japan, KCNA said.

South Korea’s military had estimated the range of the Thursday launch as 6,200 kilometres — far longer than the last ICBM, the Hwasong-15, which North Korea tested in November 2017.

The missile landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, prompting anger from Tokyo, but KCNA said the test had been carried out “in a vertical launch mode” to ease neighbours’ security concerns.

Following Thursday’s test, Washington imposed new sanctions on entities and people in Russia and North Korea who are accused of “transferring sensitive items to North Korea’s missile program”.

The North is already under biting international sanctions for its weapons programs, and the UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting over the launch on Friday.

The European Union added to the chorus of condemnation on Friday.

“This is a violation of multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions and a serious threat to international and regional peace and security,” the bloc said in a statement, calling on Pyongyang to “refrain from any further action that could increase international or regional tensions”.

‘Important progress’

The test is a clear sign North Korea has made “important qualitative progress” on its banned weapons programmes, said US-based analyst Ankit Panda.

“What’s important about this ICBM is not how far it can go, but what it can potentially carry, which is multiple warheads,” something North Korea has long coveted, he told AFP.

“The North Koreans are on the cusp of significantly increasing the threat to the United States beyond the ICBM capability demonstrated in 2017.” Multiple warheads would help a North Korean missile evade US missile defence systems.

The North had carried out three ICBM tests prior to Thursday, the last being the Hwasong-15 in 2017.

Long-range and nuclear tests were paused when Kim and then US president Donald Trump engaged in a bout of diplomacy which collapsed in 2019. Talks have since stalled.

Thursday’s launch, one of nearly a dozen North Korean weapons tests this year, marked a dramatic return to long-range testing.

It came just days after one last week, likely also of the Hwasong-17, failed, exploding after launch.

“This test also appears to ‘compensate’ for last week’s failed projectile launch — handsomely so,” Soo Kim, RAND Corporation Policy Analyst and former CIA analyst, told AFP.

“The regime appears quite pleased with the outcome of the test,” she added. The country’s new ICBM launch comes at a delicate time for the region, with South Korea going through a presidential transition until May, and the US distracted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried a photograph of a haggard-looking Kim signing papers at his desk, with an image of a handwritten “I approve the test launch” scrawled over a report.

“Kim Jong Un wants to ultimately establish himself as a leader who has successfully developed both nuclear weapons and ICBMs,” Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean studies scholar, told AFP.

“He is almost desperate as without such military achievements, he really hasn’t done much,” he added, pointing to the isolated country’s Covid- and sanctions-battered economy.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2022

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