North Korea continued its string of provocative weapons tests on Thursday, with its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch in over a month.
The missile launched near Pyongyang, the country’s capital, and travelled 997km before falling into the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Whilst North Korea described its range as medium or longer, the US National Security Council deemed it a long-range projectile, and Japanese officials claimed it likely had intercontinental range.
Experts say the missile is possibly evidence of the country testing a new type of “more mobile, harder-to-detect weapons system.” What’s more, the South Korean military believes it was the North’s first use of a weapon running on solid fuel —a fuel source already loaded into the projectile— making it easier to move and harder to detect before a launch.
A solid-fuel ICBM was one of the advanced weapons Kim Jong Un had promised to build in order to better cope with what he perceived as an increased US military threat. There have been suggestions that this development in solid fuel technology could indicate North Korea is preparing to launch a spy satellite — a piece of equipment also on Kim’s list of desired weaponry, alongside a multiwarhead projectile, a hypersonic missile, and a nuclear submarine.
Subsequently, Thursday’s launch unsurprisingly caused widespread confusion and outrage in Japan after its citizens were forced to seek shelter. Japanese Defense Minister told ABC News that the people of Hokkaido were urged to evacuate and take cover, whilst public transport services on the island were suspended. The government then retracted the missile alert once its analysis showed the projectile was not going to reach the country’s economic zone.
Despite the evacuation alert being unnecessary, the incident illustrates an increase in the perceived threat level of North Korea by its neighbours. A spokesperson for the US National Security Council said that recent events have “needlessly [raised] tensions and [risked] destabilizing the security situation in the region.” What’s more, a joint telephone conversation between Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington resulted in calls for a “decisive and united international response” to provocations, according to The Washington Post.
The United States has already proclaimed it will take all measures to bolster national security and the security of its South Korean and Japanese allies. It remains to be seen how other world leaders will respond and if sanctions against Kim Jong Un will increase, but their discussions at Japan’s Group of Seven meetings in May are now pivotal in ensuring diplomatic pressure on North Korea is maintained.
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