North Korea tests new intercontinental ballistic missile
By Choe Sang-Hun
North Korea on Thursday launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, dramatically escalating tensions with the Biden administration at a moment when the world has been gripped by the devastation of war in Ukraine.
The missile flew at an extremely steep angle, covering a distance of 683 miles before it crashed into waters west of Japan 71 minutes after liftoff, according to Makoto Oniki, Japan’s deputy defense minister. The missile reached an altitude of 3,728 miles, officials said.
The data suggested that the missile launched Thursday was more powerful than the Hwasong-15, the last ICBM that North Korea tested, South Korean officials said. In its last and only test flight, conducted in November 2017, the Hwasong-15 flew 53 minutes. It reached an altitude of 2,796 miles while covering a distance of 596 miles.
Both Oniki and South Korean defense officials called the missile launched Thursday a “new ICBM.” Before the launch, the United States and South Korea had warned that North Korea might test its new Hwasong-17 ICBM under the guise of a satellite launch. The Hwasong-17, North Korea’s largest known ICBM, was first unveiled during a military parade in October 2020, but as of Thursday it had never been tested.
The launch Thursday was North Korea’s boldest weapons test in years, and it marked the end of the self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, announced before he embarked on diplomacy with President Donald Trump in 2018.
North Korea conducted its last ICBM test in November 2017, after which it claimed that its nuclear-tipped ICBM could strike any part of the continental United States. Earlier that year, it tested what it called a thermonuclear bomb in its sixth underground nuclear test. Since his diplomacy with Trump ended in 2019 without any agreement on ending sanctions or eliminating the North’s nuclear arsenal, Kim has vowed to build more diverse and powerful nuclear missiles.
The South Korean military said it fired ballistic missiles off its east coast Thursday to demonstrate its “retaliatory” and “precision strike” capabilities.
Less than two hours after the North Korean launch, South Korea fired one Hyunmoo-2 missile and one Army Tactical Missile System. Hyunmoo is South Korea’s main ballistic missile, and the country has been building new versions of it in recent years, tipping them with increasingly powerful warheads designed to penetrate and destroy underground bunkers. South Korean aircraft also fired two JDAM bunker-buster missiles.
South Korea has said that North Korea is using those hideaways to store key military assets and as a secure site for its leaders during a conflict.
The missile tests by South Korea on Thursday came with Seoul’s strong condemnation of the North’s ICBM launch.
“North Korea violated its own moratorium on ICBM tests that it had promised to the international community,” the South Korean military said in a statement. “This is a serious threat to peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the international community, as well as a clear violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
With its missile tests Thursday, South Korea’s military said it had confirmed its “capabilities and readiness to deliver precision strikes at the origin and command and support facilities of a North Korean missile launch.”
South Korea and the U.S. military conducted similar missile drills in response to North Korea’s ICBM launches in 2017.
The United States called North Korea’s launch “a brazen violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions that “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region.”
President Joe Biden and his national security team “are assessing the situation” and consulting allies, the White House said after the launch. Biden is in Brussels as part of a day full of talks with NATO and Group of 7 leaders about the war in Ukraine.
“This action demonstrates that the DPRK continues to prioritize its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs over the well-being of its people,” the White House said, using the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“We urge all countries to hold the DPRK accountable for such violations and call on the DPRK to come to the table for serious negotiations,” according to the statement. “The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions.”