On Saturday, a day after North Korea launched an Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), one of the North’s main state-controlled media, released more details on the test.
“The DPRK strategic forces test-fired a new-type ICBM on Nov. 18 amid the strict implementation of the top-priority defense-building strategy of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the DPRK government on steadily bolstering up the most powerful and absolute nuclear deterrence,” KCNA reported. (DPRK is an acronym of North Korea’s official name: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.)
The Hwasong-17 ICBM launched on Friday flew 999.2 km with a maximum altitude of 6,040.9 km for 4,135 seconds (just under 69 minutes), according to KCNA. Hours after the launch, the South Korean military had provided a similar analysis of the missile’s performance. On Friday, Japan’s Ministry of Defense concluded that, depending on the weight of a potential warhead, the North Korean ICBM could have a range of over 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles), “in which case it could cover the entire mainland United States.”
Reiterating that its missile tests were defensive amid the extended military exercises between South Korea and the United States in the region, KCNA reported that “the test-fire clearly proved the reliability of the new major strategic weapon system to be representative of the DPRK’s strategic forces and its powerful combat performance as the strongest strategic weapon in the world.”
The North’s ICBM capabilities have been improved in the past eight months, considering the poor performance of its ICBM launches in March.
As Friday’s ICBM launch seemed to have successfully carried out, KCNA also reported that its supreme leader Kim Jong Un guided the test on-site and cited his remarks on Kim’s firm will to bolster his country’s nuclear weapons development.
“Kim Jong Un said he came to confirm once again that the nuclear forces of the DPRK have secured another reliable and maximum capacity to contain any nuclear threat,” KCNA declared.
Kim also justified the ICBM launch by saying that the military tensions caused by the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises have required the North “to substantially accelerate the bolstering of its overwhelming nuclear deterrence.”
In order to foster conditions to make a deal with Kim, then-U.S. President Donald Trump temporarily halted the South Korea-U.S. joint military drills in 2018 – which facilitated the historical North Korea-U.S. summits in Singapore and Hanoi in 2018 and 2019, respectively. As North Korea has consistently deemed the joint military drills between the South and the United States as “a rehearsal for invasion,” the drills were canceled or scaled back when the nuclear talks were underway.
Since the failed Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim, both North Korea-U.S. nuclear talks and inter-Korean dialogue have collapsed, and North Korea has resumed testing its ballistic missiles, including its latest ICBM. The tensions on the Korean Peninsula have escalated as South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has prioritized strengthening the country’s self-defense capabilities against the North’s nuclear and missile threats with the iron-clad military alliance with the United States. That, in turn, has spared more tests and threats from Pyongyang.
“If the enemies continue to pose threats to the DPRK, frequently introducing nuclear strike means, our party and government will resolutely react to nukes with nuclear weapons and to total confrontation with all-out confrontation,” Kim said.
As Seoul and Washington have united to effectively respond to the spate of the North’s missile launches with their relatively overwhelming military assets this year, Pyongyang repeatedly published statements from its officials to issue stern warnings about the allies’ military activities. In the KCNA report published on Saturday, Kim reaffirmed his belligerent stance over the series of South Korea-U.S. military drills and the U.S. extended deterrence.
“[T]he more the U.S. imperialists make a military bluffing in the Korean Peninsula and its surrounding area while being engrossed in ‘strengthened offer of extended deterrence’ to their allies and war exercises, the more offensive the DPRK’s military counteraction will be,” Kim said.
During a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on November 14, U.S. President Joe Biden raised concerns over the North’s “provocative behavior,” but China is unlikely to implement substantive measures to deter the North’s missile tests in the coming months, considering its responses so far this year.
Upon the request of the United States, the United Nations Security Council will hold a meeting on Monday to discuss North Korea’s ICBM launch. However, as China and Russia, the permanent members of the UNSC have repeatedly vetoed imposing additional sanctions against the North, the meeting is unlikely to result in additional action. Even though the North repeatedly violated multiple UNSC resolutions this year, the Security Council has not been able to forge a unified response.
On November 18, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement condemning the North’s ICBM launch. He also urged North Korea “to immediately desist from taking any further provocation actions” and “take immediate steps to resume dialogue leading to sustainable peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Choe Son Hui, the North’s foreign minister, called Guterres “a puppet of the U.S.” and warned that “the DPRK is watching the moves of the U.S. and the UNSC with clear counteraction.”
“The international community should lift its voice that if peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the region are to be maintained, it is important to constrain and stop the provocative military actions of the U.S., the root of all disasters occurring in the region,” Choe said in her statement. She also published a statement denouncing the South Korea-U.S.-Japan trilateral summit last week.
Despite North Korea’s series of missile launches, South Korea and the United States have not come up with any new policy proposals to bring the North back to the negotiating table. While strengthening security cooperation to effectively respond to the North’s missile threats, Seoul and Washington should also seek room to engage in multilateral diplomacy with neighboring countries to defuse the tensions on the Korean Peninsula peacefully.