In the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine, North Korea has decided that it was time for them to share the limelight with Russia. Pyongyang has reportedly completed its first launch and testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) after a four-year moratorium that started last 2017.
North Korean state media said that the launch involved the new Hwasong-17 (Hwasongpho-17) and was conducted under the direct guidance of Kim Jong Un on March 24. Kim said that the launch was necessary as he and his country were preparing for a “long confrontation” with the US and its imperialism, adding that they were ready to contain any military aggression from the US.
The missile was launched from Pyongyang International Airport and flew 681 miles for over an hour. Its highest altitude was reported at 3,905 miles before hitting its targets in waters east of South Korea.
“The new strategic weapon of the DPRK will clearly show the might of our strategic force to the whole world once again. This will be an occasion of confirming the modernity of our strategic force and confidence in the security of the state,” the North Korean leader said.
Intel from South Korea and Japan confirmed the success of the test launch and showed that it yielded record figures in terms of altitude and flight time across all previous tests by North Korea.
The launch is the 11th batch of North Korean tests this year. However, several news outlets have reported slightly higher figures at 12 or at least 13. North Korea’s launches did not come as a surprise as the Pentagon and South Korean intelligence have warned of immediate ICBM tests after the two suspected launches on February 27 and March 5.
North Korea’s actions come as world leaders meet in Brussels to stop Putin’s invasion of Ukraine through more stringent sanctions and more military aid to Ukraine. For some reason, Kim Jong Un is trying to obtain the spotlight from Russia, trying to highlight that Pyongyang is still a global player and a threat to the international bout for power, as analysts have said.
“North Korea refuses to be ignored and may be trying to take advantage of global preoccupation with the war in Ukraine to force a fait accompli on its status as nuclear weapons state,” Associate Professor of International Studies at Ewha Woman’s University Leif-Eric Easley said in an interview with CNN.
“North Korea is nowhere near initiating aggression on the scale of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Pyongyang’s ambitions likewise exceed self-defense as it wants to overturn the postwar security order in Asia,” Easley added.
International Attention for North Korea
It seems Kim Jong Un’s attempt to gain much-wanted publicity from the international community has been successful. Shortly after reports of the ICBM launch, various nations and organizations criticized the country’s decision to escalate the situation.
South Korean outgoing President Moon Jae-in, who has been an advocate of peaceful engagement with North Korea, condemned the test launch as “a breach of the moratorium on ICBM launches that Chairman Kim Jong-un himself promised to the international community.”
Leader of Japan, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, called the North’s actions an “unacceptable act of violence.” Kishida is currently in Brussels meeting with the members of the G7 discussing additional actions on Ukraine.
“This is another breach of the DPRK’s (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) announced a moratorium in 2018 on launches of this nature, and a clear violation of Security Council resolutions,” Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres said through his spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.
In the same statement, he reiterated that he wanted to coordinate with all parties to seek a diplomatic resolution to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula completely.
“This launch is a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region,” wrote White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in a statement.
The White House condemned the launch and noted that there would likely be more tests in the future. According to the press release, the Biden Administration’s National Security team is assessing the situation in cooperation with US allies.
“The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions. The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and Republic of Korea and Japanese allies,” Psaki added.
A New Face Down South
North Korea is not the only one posturing in the region. Down south, South Korea is expected to take a tougher stand against the North after years of trying to make amends peacefully.
The change in foreign policy comes as outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in is due to leave office in May. In his place will be incoming President Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party. A conservative, Yoon’s presidential campaign was built on a promised hardline approach against their northern neighbor. This included bolstering defense capabilities domestically and internationally through the South’s network of key allies, including the United States.
The President-elect has released a strict warning to the North after hearing the news of the launch.
“I sternly warn North Korea that there is nothing that can be gained from provocations,” Yoon wrote. “The Republic of Korea will safeguard freedom and peace by building a stronger security posture.”
“We must respond strongly to North Korea’s provocations by cooperating with the international community upon the foundation of close coordination between South Korea and the United States.”
Yoon also called for the current Moon administration to defend the South Korean people by drawing concrete strategies against the Northern threat.
Last Thursday, the South Korean military said that it did its live tests of ballistic and tactical missiles after the ICBM launch from the North. The tests confirmed the South’s ability to hit precision targets in North Korea should the need arise.