North Korea Test-Fires Its Second ICBM in a New Provocation

  • Missile flew as high as 3,700 kilometers, South Korea says
  • Follows regime’s succesful launch of ICBM earlier in July

North Korea Isn't Backing Down

North Korea test-fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile within a month on Friday, a provocation that heightens pressure on the U.S. and China to find ways to rein in Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions.

After the Pentagon and South Korea’s presidential office assessed that the missile was another ICBM, the U.S. said its top general called his South Korean counterpart to discuss “military response options.” The missile traveled about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), according to Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Kim issued the order to test-fire the Hwasong-14 missile on July 27, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said on Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump, in an emailed statement from the White House, called the launch a reckless and dangerous action. "The United States will take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region," he said.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile, which was launched late on Friday night, flew for about 45 minutes and landed in the country’s exclusive economic zone. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it reached an altitude of about 3,700 kilometers, which is almost 1,000 kilometers higher than the July 4 test.

Melissa Hanham, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California, said the launch showed progress toward a missile capable of hitting U.S. cities such as Denver or Chicago.

"It’s getting close to New York," Hanham said by email. She added that initial data from the test suggested that if such a projectile were launched toward the U.S., it could travel about 10,000 kilometers.

Read more: The options for dealing with North Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office said in a statement that he’d ordered a show of force in response to North Korea’s actions, and hours later the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korea’s military said they fired long-range precision-guided tactical missiles into South Korean territorial waters as a show of the alliance’s deep-strike capability.

Moon also called for talks with the U.S. to consider the deployment of more Thaad launchers to South Korea. Moon previously put the rollout of further components of the missile shield on ice pending an environmental impact study.

Kim’s isolated regime has said it aims to acquire a device capable of hitting the continental U.S. with a nuclear warhead, in order to have a strong deterrent to being attacked itself.

U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed “military response options” in a phone call with his South Korean counterpart, General Lee Sun Jin, after the latest launch, Captain Greg Hicks, Dunford’s spokesman, said in an emailed statement that didn’t elaborate on those options.

In Harm’s Way

While Trump has said all options are on the table to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the U.S., Dunford has warned that millions of residents in Seoul are in range of North Korean missiles and rockets that would be fired in a military confrontation. The South Korean capital would face casualties “unlike anything we’ve seen in 60 or 70 years,” he told a congressional hearing in June.

Still, Dunford told a security conference in Colorado this month that “what’s unimaginable to me” is allowing the capability for “a nuclear weapon to land in Denver, Colorado.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the July 4 test a “new escalation of the threat” to the U.S., though South Korea cast doubt on whether the north had acquired the necessary re-entry capability so that the missile could survive the heat of returning to the Earth’s atmosphere.

The July 4 missile reached an altitude of 2,800 kilometers and flew for 39 minutes, with North Korea saying it was a new type of missile called a Hwasong-14.

New Launch Site

Yonhap reported that Friday’s test was the first time North Korea had launched a missile from Jagang, a province north of Pyongyang that shares a border with China. It said the unusual late-night firing was aimed at showing the world that it can conduct launches at any time, and anywhere.

In a new assessment, U.S. officials warned North Korea will be able to launch a nuclear-capable ICBM as early as next year, the Washington Post reported this week.

After the July 4 ICBM test Trump said he’s weighing some “pretty severe things” in response. Trump has also shown signs of increased frustration at the pace of China’s efforts to rein in its neighbor and ally. China is Pyongyang’s main economic lifeline.

U.S. lawmakers have voted to send Trump legislation that would impose new sanctions on North Korea as well as Russia and Iran.

Still, Beijing has been cautious about squeezing Kim too hard given concern it could spark a messy collapse of his regime and a refugee crisis on China’s border. It also worries that such a development could lead to a beefed-up U.S. military presence in the area.

Group Effort

At the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, meetings between Trump and the leaders of South Korea, Japan and China ended without a clear consensus about how to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. So far there have not been fresh United Nations Security Council sanctions, though individual countries have announced new penalties.

“Pyongyang has once again made it clear that they are operating on their own timetable,” said Ralph Cossa, President of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu.

“My guess -- and when it comes to North Korea we’re all guessing -- is that they are waiting for the next sanctions resolution, which they will then say ‘forces’ them to accelerate their program and we will finally have our much-anticipated next nuclear test,” he said by email.

Kim has conducted a series of tests since Moon became South Korea’s president in May, complicating Moon’s ambitions to engage with Pyongyang. The new leader said in a Berlin speech that he’s willing, under the right circumstances, to meet Kim "anytime, anywhere."

North Korea has yet to respond to an offer by Moon to seek a deal in 2020 to bring about the"complete denuclearization" of the nation in return for a peace treaty that would guarantee the survival of Kim’s regime.

It has also not responded to Moon’s proposals this month for military talks and meetings of Red Cross officials to consider resuming reunions of families separated during the Korean War.

— With assistance by Margaret Talev, Gearoid Reidy, Lily Nonomiya, Shoko Oda, Nafeesa Syeed, and James Mayger

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