North Korea missile launch may be testing rivals, not technology
North Korea’s latest missile test yesterday may have less to do with perfecting its weapons technology than with showing US and South Korean forces in the region that it can strike them at will.
South Korean and Japanese officials said the suspected Scud-type short-range missile flew about 450 kilometers (280 miles) yesterday morning before landing in Japan’s maritime economic zone, setting off the usual round of condemnation from Washington and the North’s neighbours.
It’s the latest in a string of test launches by North Korea as it seeks to build nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) that can reach the US mainland, a drive that puts North Korea high on the list of foreign policy worries for Japan, Washington and Seoul.
North Korea already has an arsenal of reliable short-range missiles. While North Korean scientists could be tweaking them - for instance, developing a new solid-fuel short-range missile - the North tests these shorter-range missiles much less than it does its less dependable longer-range missiles.
This sets up the possibility that North Korea hopes to use the test to show it can hit US targets near and far and emphasize its defiance of US-led pressure on its missile and nuclear programmes, which has included vague threats from President Donald Trump and the arrival in Korean waters of powerful US military hardware. Scuds are capable of striking US troops in South Korea, for instance, and the two newly developed missiles tested earlier this month have potential ranges that include Japan, Guam and even, according to some South Korean analysts, Alaska.
The missile was launched from the coastal town of Wonsan, the South’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement. It landed in Japan’s exclusive maritime economic zone, which is set about 200 nautical miles off the Japanese coast, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. He said there was no report of damage to planes or vessels in the area.
North Korea is still thought to be several years from its goal of being able to target US mainland cities with nuclear ICBMs.
South Korea says North Korea has conducted nine ballistic missile tests this year, including one in which four missiles were launched on the same day.