North Korea has tested a new long-range cruise missile capable of hitting much of Japan, state media said on Monday. Tests staged over the weekend saw missiles travelling as far as 1,500km (930 miles) away, according to KCNA.
However, they do not violate UN Security Council resolutions – they have led to tough sanctions on North Korea in the past. But it suggests the country is still capable of developing weapons despite food shortages and an economic crisis.
The test provides “strategic significance of possessing another effective deterrence means for more reliably guaranteeing the security of our state and strongly containing the military manoeuvres of the hostile forces,” KCNA said.
It is the country’s first long-range cruise missile that could possibly carry a nuclear warhead, according to North Korea analyst Ankit Panda said.
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said “Japan has significant concerns” and was working with the US and South Korea to monitor the solution.
The US military has reacted too, saying the test showed North Korea’s “continuing focus on developing its military programme and the threats that poses to its neighbours and the international community”.
It added that US commitment to defending allies South Korea and Japan “remains ironclad”.
Top-level officials from the three countries are due to meet this week to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization process. South Korea military is doing an in-depth analysis of the launches with US intelligence authorities, reported news agency Yonhap.
The reason some may shrug this missile test off is because it was a cruise missile. This type of missile isn’t subject to UN Security Council sanctions which are in place to curb North Korea’s nuclear programme.
Some may view this as a low-level provocation from Pyongyang – perhaps testing the waters to see what reaction it gets. It certainly didn’t make the top headline in South Korea, nor did it make the front page of North Korea’s state newspaper.
The problem is that North Korea is once again proving that it can develop new and dangerous weapons despite being subject to strict international sanctions. These cruise missiles fly low and are difficult to detect, and a range of 1,500km would put much of Japan in range.
State media also describes these missiles as “strategic” which usually means that the regime hopes to put a nuclear warhead on it. Analysts aren’t sure yet if North Korea can miniaturise a nuclear warhead to fit on a cruise missile. However given how many advances the secretive state has made so far, no one would bet against it.
Pyongyang may have been quiet since talks between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un broke down in Hanoi in 2019. But it doesn’t mean their weapons developers have not been busy.