North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday announced his military’s first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, warning the weapon could “reach anywhere in the world.” After one expert claimed the same missile could get to Alaska, President Trump reacted to the provocative move, tweeting: “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?”
Likely launched to coincide with the July Fourth holiday in the U.S., the Hwasong-14 missile took off from the Banghyon airfield in the northwestern town of Kusong and flew 930 kilometers before landing in the sea between North Korea and Japan, according to the South Korean military. U.S. Pacific Command tracked the missile for 37 minutes before it dropped into the East Sea, labeling it a “land-based, intermediate-range” missile.
“As a strongest nuclear state with the best ICBM rockets, North Korea will end the U.S. nuclear war threats and defense peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula,” Korea Central Television reported. According to state news agency KCNA, the test was “conducted under the personal guidance of Kim Jong Un.”
While the U.S., Japan, and South Korea have long been warning about the growing threat from North Korea’s missile tests, analysts had thought Pyongyang was years away from having a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. Tuesday’s test will force a reassessment of those predictions.
David Wright, a physicist and co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ global security program, says that during the test Tuesday, the missile had a lofted trajectory reaching an altitude of over 1,700 miles. He says that if the missile was fired on a normal trajectory, it could reach the U.S.
“If the reports are correct, that same missile could reach a maximum range of roughly 6,700 km (4,160 miles) on a standard trajectory,” Wright said. “That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska.”
Joseph Dempsey, an analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the fact the missile flew for 37 minutes suggests this was a test “of something more capable.”
In a late-night response on Twitter, Trump questioned how much more provocation Japan and South Korea would take, while once again attempting to goad China into taking more substantive action.
While Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping had enjoyed a brief honeymoon period, relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated in recent weeks, as Trump’s patience has appeared to run out.
In Beijing Tuesday, the government didn’t appear to be heeding Trump’s advice, calling instead for calm and restraint after the launch, simply stating it was opposed to Pyongyang violating those rules. China is eager to retain the status quo on the Korean Peninsula, since all-out war would be bad for the region, and for China specifically.
In South Korea, newly elected President Moon Jae-in, who is attempting to open lines of communication with Pyongyang, warned North Korea not to cross a “red line,” adding that he’s unsure what consequence the communist state will face if it continues to provoke other countries. “I hope North Korea will not cross the point of no return,” Moon said during a meeting with former British Prime Minister David Cameron.
North Korea is banned from developing and testing ballistic weapons under sanctions imposed by the U.N. But Pyongyang has been accelerating the rate at which it tests its missiles in 2017, with Tuesday’s test marking the 14th since the beginning of the year.