North Korea has confirmed that it has conducted a missile test of an intermediate-range ballistic type with the power to reach the US island of Guam, in what can be considered as the North’s most important military launch in years.
The launch on Sunday might be a precursor to larger provocations by North Korea, such as nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests that represent a direct danger to the US mainland, as the North seeks to put more pressure on the Biden administration and respond to potential new sanctions.
According to some observers, North Korea’s current nuclear testing frenzy is intended to gain sanction relief or world recognition as a legitimate nuclear power.
According to a report, the goal of the test was to check the overall accuracy of the Hwasong-12 missile, which is currently in use by the Korean military.
North Korea claimed the missile was shot at a high angle toward seas off its east coast to avoid flying over other nations. It didn’t go into any additional information.
The missile traveled around 800 kilometers (497 miles) and reached a maximum height of 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) before hitting an area between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to South Korean and Japanese estimates.
According to the flight details, it is the most powerful missile that North Korea has ever tested since 2017, when it launched Hwasong-12 and longer-range missiles in a frenzy of weapons testing to gain the ability to launch nuclear attacks on US military bases in Northeast Asia and the Pacific, as well as the American homeland.
Missile test demonstrates capability of reaching Guam
When fired on a conventional trajectory, the Hwasong-12 missile is a nuclear-capable ground-to-ground weapon capable of reaching a maximum range of 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles).
It is a sufficient range to reach Guam, which is home to US military facilities that have in the past dispatched sophisticated airplanes to the Korean Peninsula as a show of force. In August 2017, at the height of its hostility toward the former US government under Trump administration, North Korea warned to launch “an enveloping fire” with Hwasong-12 missiles around Guam.
North Korea also tested intercontinental ballistic missiles known as Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 in 2017, which experts claim indicated its prospective capability to strike the US mainland.
According to some observers, North Korea still has to undertake further test flights to demonstrate that it has overcome the last technological challenges, such as safeguarding a warhead from the intense pressure and heat of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
North Korea has launched a number of missile systems in recent months and has warned to lift a four-year ban on more major weapons tests, such as nuclear explosions.
The launch on Sunday was the North’s seventh in a series of missile tests in January alone. Other weapons tested recently include a developing hypersonic missile and a submarine-launched missile.
North Korea has officially said that it will increase the number of strong missiles and nuclear bombs in its arsenal.
Following the launch on Sunday, White House officials stated that the latest missile test was part of an escalating pattern of provocations over the previous several months that had gotten more troubling.
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.
According to a senior US administration official who briefed the media on the condition of anonymity, Joe Biden’s administration is preparing a still undisclosed plan that is meant to be the US’ response to the recent missile tests. The plan, which purpose is to convince the North Korean government that the United States is committed to secure allies within the region, is expected to materialize in the coming days.
According to the official, the government saw Sunday’s missile launch as the latest in a string of provocative actions aimed at gaining sanctions relief from the US.
The Biden administration has once again urged North Korea to resume discussions, but has stated that the type of leader-to-leader summits held by Donald Trump with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are not helpful at this time.
Officials from South Korea and Japan also criticized the launch, which they said violated UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting the nation from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.
Missile tests are “threatening to destabilize Asia”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to tell the world that he still matters by conducting seven missile tests in violation of international law in January.
Seven North Korean missile tests in the first four weeks of 2022, according to analysts, indicate that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is attempting to achieve domestic goals while also demonstrating to an increasingly troubled world that Pyongyang remains and will remain as a major player in the struggle for power and influence among the world superpowers.
“By threatening to destabilize Asia while global resources are stretched thin elsewhere, Pyongyang is demanding the world pay it to act like a ‘responsible nuclear power,'” explained Leif-Eric Easley, Associate Professor of International Studies at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul.
Those seven missile tests are thought to range from a hypersonic glide vehicle, which could be one of the world’s most powerful weapons, to an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) (Pyongyang’s longest-range missile tested since 2017) to cruise missiles, which have been in the arsenals of countries like the US for decades.
Missile test is a demonstration of power
The tests are part of Kim’s commitment to make North Korea a nation capable of standing up to opponents outside its southern neighbor, such as the United States. The IRBM that was tested on Sunday could be able to reach Guam, a US island territory in the Pacific Ocean.
Kim has justification to be anxious about a possible change of leadership in Seoul following the presidential election in March. The conservatives, led by presidential candidate Yoon Suk Yeol, have a chance to overthrow the present ruling democrats, led by Lee Jae-Myung, who would succeed Moon Jae-in if elected. According to analysts, a Yoon-led administration would be likely to adopt a far tougher stance towards the North than a Lee-led one.
Yoon even said that South Korea may attack first against a perceived North Korean threat before suffering a catastrophic loss. Kim clearly piqued Moon’s interest with his IRBM test on Sunday. In a statement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in noted that the IRBM launch may be interpreted as an indication that the Kim government is ready to end its moratorium on inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) and nuclear testing.
This ban has kept North Korea mostly out of the international limelight, but longer-range missile testing might alter that trend.
Recently, South Korea’s president expressed optimism about a proclamation declaring formal end to the Korean war to help restart peace negotiations.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s government has mostly ignored North Korea, focusing on foreign policy matters such as China, Taiwan, and, most recently, Ukraine, in addition to the Covid pandemic.
According to reports, Washington’s reactions to North Korean launches in January are nowhere like those during Pyongyang’s provocations in 2017, when Donald Trump was President. On Sunday, a US source told reporters that Washington was willing to hold discussions with Pyongyang, albeit such conversations would begin at a lower level than a direct meeting between Biden and Kim.
That must be frustrating for North Korea’s first leader to meet with a sitting American President not just once, but three times. “For better and for worse, Biden is showing no fire and no fury,” Easley added.
During Biden’s first year in office, North Korea conducted eight tests, none of which were capable of launching an ICBM. However, Sunday’s IRBM tests indicate that capability remains in the North’s inventory, and analysts say testing one now could be a major blow to a Biden administration already rocked by perceived foreign policy missteps such as the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the possibility of war in Europe as Russia masses troops on its borders with Ukraine.
Meanwhile, with the Winter Olympics commencing in just a few days in North Korea’s primary ally, China’s capital, the world may see Kim take a break from testing to let his buddies in Beijing to bask in the worldwide spotlight.