Just hours before NATO (Western military alliance) met to discuss further steps against Russia in the Ukraine war, North Korea carried out its biggest test of a nuclear-capable intercontinental missile — its first since 2017.
Dictator Kim Jong-un is one of Vladimir Putin’s few allies, and the shooting opens a new front of concern for US President Joe Biden, who has pledged a lot of diplomatic chips when meeting in person with the other 29 heads of government of the NATO in Brussels this Thursday (24).
The United States, Japan and South Korea condemned the test. According to the Japanese Defense Ministry, it was likely the first with a Hwasong-17 missile, presented at a military parade in Pyongyang in 2020. The launch took place at 15:44 local time (3:44 am GMT), three hours before Western leaders were due to pose for the first photo of your date.
The test impressed the South Koreans, who calculated it: the missile flew for 71 minutes at up to 6,200 km, covering a distance of 1,080 km, crashing into the sea near Japan. If it used a normal trajectory, it could hit cities on the American west coast, as well as US Pacific territories like Hawaii and Guam.
The biggest test so far was in 2017, when a model Hwasong-15 reached an altitude of 4,475 km and a range of 950 km, flying for 53 minutes. To demonstrate readiness, Seoul fired a series of smaller test missiles.
It is the first test of this type of missile since the series that took place five years ago, which forced the then Donald Trump administration to negotiate directly with Kim – the three rounds of direct talks between the two, however, would fail and put the negotiations on hold. to lift sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear program.
North Korea has been on a ceasefire with the South since 1953, after three years of war between communist forces backed by the Soviets and China in the north and capitalist ones, backed by the US.
Seoul, a regional military power, is nuclear protected by the US. Pyongyang has conducted six atomic tests and has a sophisticated ballistic missile program. It has an estimated 20 warheads, according to the prestigious Federation of American Scientists, or as many as 45, for other sources.
Kim supports the Russian invasion of Ukraine, although he did not say so in full. His Foreign Ministry issued a statement three weeks ago, repeating arguments against the West, blaming NATO’s eastern expansion as responsible for the crisis.
It is similar to the Chinese line, which plays cautious chess to try to make gains from the conflict led by its ally Putin, but without the words defending peace in Beijing from Beijing.
With the test, Biden’s attention will invariably have to be shifted. Kim was already showing signs of impatience, with a series of tests of new weapons, such as cruise missiles and a supposedly hypersonic, but the symbolism of having his biggest weapon in flight is great.
Even if nothing has been agreed with the Russians, it makes sense for Kim to focus attention on stalled negotiations over his nuclear program with Washington at a time of American focus in Europe. Pyongyang is also an ally of China, which is accused by the US of wanting to help Russia under sanctions with economic and military support.
It’s a complex equation: the dictator needs the bombs to stay in power, it’s the deterrent he has. At the same time, the US demands a denuclearized Korean peninsula, which bothers Seoul, which does not rule out joining the atomic club to stop its northern neighbor.
One way or another, it’s one more problem for the US attempt to put its strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific to contain China. This is a process that started with Trump’s Cold War 2.0 and was accelerated by Biden, who revitalized the Quad (alliance with India, Australia and Japan) and closed a military agreement with Australians and British, in addition to having withdrawn from Afghanistan to release energy in the region.
Having the missile capable of hitting the US does not mean, however, that it is ready to do so. That’s because the most critical phase of such an attack is the ballistic protection of the nuclear warhead, or warheads, that the bolide carries from the extreme heat of re-entry into the lower layers of the atmosphere during the approach to the target.
It is not known at what stage the development of this technology by the North Koreans is, but there is a perennial suspicion that China or Russia may have passed on the knowledge. Kim’s most recent, and most powerful, nuclear test was also in 2017.
On February 27 and March 5 of this year, the dictatorship carried out two tests with what experts believed to be parts of the Hwasong-17, disguised as satellite launchers. In addition to the 2020 parade, the missile, over the world’s largest mobile launcher, was also exhibited in 2021.