North Korea confirms test of missile capable of striking Guam
North Korea said the missile was launched toward waters off its east coast on a high angle to prevent flying over other countries
North Korea has confirmed it test-launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the US territory of Guam in the North’s most significant weapon launch in years.
Sunday’s launch could be a prelude to bigger provocations by North Korea such as nuclear and long-range missile tests that pose a direct threat to the US mainland, as the North tries to further pressure the Biden administration and react to potential further sanctions.
Some experts say North Korea’s recent testing spree is meant to win sanction relief or international recognition as a legitimate nuclear state.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the purpose of the test was verifying the overall accuracy of the Hwasong-12 missile that is being deployed in its military.
North Korea said the missile was launched toward waters off its east coast on a high angle to prevent flying over other countries. It gave no further details.
According to South Korean and Japanese assessments, the missile flew about 800 kilometres (497 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometres (1,242 miles) before landing between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
The reported flight details make it the most powerful missile North Korea has tested since 2017, when the country launched Hwasong-12 and longer-range missiles in a torrid run of weapons firings to acquire an ability to launch nuclear strikes on US military bases in Northeast Asia and the Pacific and even the American homeland.
The Hwasong-12 missile is a nuclear-capable ground-to-ground weapon with a maximum range of 4,500 kilometres (2,800 miles) when it is fired on a standard trajectory.
It is a distance sufficient to reach Guam, home to US military bases that in past times of tensions sent advanced warplanes to the Korean Peninsula in shows of force. In August 2017, at the height of animosities with the then-Trump administration, North Korea threatened to make “an enveloping fire” near Gaum with Hwasong-12 missiles.
In 2017, North Korea also test-fired intercontinental ballistic missiles called Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 that experts say demonstrated their potential capacity to reach the mainland US.
Some analysts say North Korea still needs to conduct additional test-flights to prove it has overcome the last remaining technological hurdles, such as protecting a warhead from the extreme heat and pressure of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
In recent months, North Korea has launched a variety of weapons systems and threatened to lift a four-year moratorium on more serious weapons tests such as nuclear explosions.
Sunday’s launch was the North’s seventh round of missile launches in January alone, and other weapons tested recently include a developmental hypersonic missile and a submarine-launched missile.
North Korea has publicly vowed to add more powerful missiles and nuclear warheads in its arsenal.
After Sunday’s launch, White House officials said they saw the latest missile test as part of an escalating series of provocations over the last several months that have become increasingly concerning.
The Biden administration plans to respond to the latest missile test in the coming days with an unspecified move meant to demonstrate to the North that the US government is committed to allies’ security in the region, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.
The official said the administration viewed Sunday’s missile test as the latest in a series of provocations to try to win sanctions relief from the US.
The Biden administration again called on North Korea to return to talks but made clear it does not see the sort of leader-to-leader summits Donald Trump held with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as constructive at this time.
South Korean and Japanese officials also condemned Sunday’s launch, which violated UN Security Council resolutions that bans the country from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.