North Korea on Monday announced that it had successfully launched its first “strategic” long-range cruise missile in a series of tests, stoking international concern over what analysts believe to be a weapon with nuclear potential .
In tests held over the weekend, the North Korean missiles traveled and hit targets at a distance of 1,500 km (930 miles), according to the Korea Central News Agency (KNCA) – a range that would make it capable of hitting much of Japan.
The US military has expressed concerns about the missile tests, saying they posed “threats” to the country’s neighbors and beyond.
“This activity highlights the DPRK’s continued focus on developing its military program and the threats to its neighbors and the international community,” the US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement, referring to the official name. of North, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Japan said it was “extremely worried” following the tests. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said North Korean missiles of such range would pose a “serious threat to the peace and security of Japan and its environs”.
He said Tokyo was working closely with Washington and Seoul to gather information on North Korea’s latest tests, but said there was no immediate indication the weapons had entered the exclusive economic zone. from Japan.
North Korean state media said the missiles were fired after two years of searching, changed course and flew in “flight orbit 8” for two hours before hitting the target and dropping in. northern territorial waters.
North Korea praised the “strategic importance” of cruise missiles, boasting that the country “now has[es] another effective deterrent to more reliably guarantee the security of our State and strongly contain the military maneuvers of hostile forces “.
North Korea is banned from developing and testing ballistic missiles by a series of UN Security Council resolutions. Cruise missile testing is permitted but remains a concern among observers as the North continues to expand its military capabilities amid a prolonged stalemate in nuclear talks with the United States.
It was North Korea’s first missile test for six more months in March, when it launched a new short-range tactical ballistic missile.
The South Korean military said it was conducting a detailed analysis of North Korean launches based on information provided by South Korea and Japan.
Calling the tests “provocative,” Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha University for Women in Seoul, said North Korea called it a “strategic” weapon implied the intention to install a miniaturized nuclear warhead there.
“If this is the case, then the test deserves an international effort to strengthen sanctions. However, Pyongyang may be calculating that Washington will take a weaker approach, given the United States’ strained relations with China and Russia and the general opposition of those countries to increased sanctions, ”the professor said. Easley.
The launch of the test came ahead of US President Joe Biden’s nuclear envoy Sung Kim’s scheduled visit to Tokyo to meet with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts this week.
Professor Easley said the meeting should focus on creative ways to diplomatically engage Pyongyang. “But now a trilateral declaration is needed that mentions sanctions and defense cooperation while calling on North Korea to practice military restraint, resume dialogue and accept humanitarian aid to alleviate the suffering of its nation. people, ”he added.
Ankit Panda, an international security expert and author of a book on Kim Jong-un’s nuclear capabilities, said: “It would be the first cruise missile in North Korea to be explicitly designated as a ‘strategic’ role. … nuclear capable system.
The missile test follows a military parade Mr. Kim attended last week to celebrate the country’s 73rd founding anniversary. At the time, analysts saw this as a much less assertive display from a nation that often uses such parades to show off its military might.
Mr Kim did not attend the latest test launch, but it was held in the presence of his close associate Pak Jong Chon, according to state media.
In January, at a convention of the ruling Workers’ Party, Kim doubled down on his pledge to strengthen nuclear deterrence against US sanctions. It boasted of sophisticated new assets, including longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-powered submarines, spy satellites and tactical nuclear weapons.
Mr Kim also said at the time that his national defense scientists were developing “intermediate-range cruise missiles with the most powerful warheads in the world.”
The Independent Gt