Six months ago, North Korea’s dynastic leader, Kim Jong Un, announced in clear terms his nation’s resolve to develop a ballistic missile capable of reaching the continental United States.
Such an accomplishment would surely shift the power dynamic in Northeast Asia — and help cement the government’s long-sought status as a nuclear state.
It appears Kim has gotten his wish.
North Korea announced Tuesday that it had, at long last, test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile — a “glistening miracle,” as state news described it.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned what he acknowledged was an ICBM test, saying the launch represents “a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region and the world.”
The news means an already intractable problem posed by Pyongyang’s advancing nuclear and missile programs just became more difficult for the United States and its regional allies.
“It’s really, really significant from a technological and political standpoint,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California who studies North Korea’s missile program.
A report in North Korean state media on Wednesday said a smiling Kim, speaking to his scientists, referred to the “package of gifts” they had delivered on the U.S. Independence Day, and urged them to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees,” according to the Associated Press.
The report said Kim “stressed that the protracted showdown with the U.S. imperialists has reached its final phase and it is the time for [North Korea] to demonstrate its mettle to the U.S., which is testing its will in defiance of its warning.”
American and South Korean officials, while confirming the launch and expressing concern, said in their initial assessments that the missile appeared to be somewhat less capable than North Korea announced.
Tillerson called upon all nations to publicly stand together against North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons — as diplomats from the United States, Japan and South Korea requested an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss the launch.
“Global action is required to stop a global threat,” Tillerson said in a statement. “Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and her counterparts from Japan and South Korea called for a Security Council meeting Wednesday.
“As we, along with others, have made clear: We will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea,” Tillerson said.
The U.S. Army and South Korea military conducted a combined missile exercise Tuesday as a show of force in response to North Korea’s test.
Multiple Hyunmoo-2 missiles, capable of striking any target in North Korea, were blasted from launchers along South Korea’s eastern coastline into the South’s territorial waters. The exercise took place within 10 miles of the demilitarized zone separating North and South.
“The deep strike precision capability enables the [South Korean]-U.S. alliance to engage the full array of time critical targets under all weather conditions,” the U.S. Army said in a statement.
The initial questions about North Korea’s claim appeared to be about the performance and range of the missile — not the fact that Pyongyang had significantly improved its capability. By any measure, the missile appeared to be the longest-range military device North Korea has tested.
The apparently successful test wasn’t a surprise for security analysts and military officials like Hanham, who were watching in the fall when North Korea suffered two mysterious and explosive missile failures at the same launch facility.