WHAT’S THE STORY?

NORTH Korea has test-launched its most frightening missile to date to the delight of its jubilant state media – leaving the international community on high-alert.

Fired from the capital Pyongyang, the Hwasong-14 warhead plunged into the Sea of Japan yesterday after a flight time of more than half an hour.

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In typically boisterous fashion, North Korea’s Academy of Defence and Science claimed the test-launch represented the “final step” in creating a “confident and powerful nuclear state that can strike anywhere on Earth”.

North Korean state television made the announcement, accompanied by a gleeful image of Kim Jong Il proudly looking on from above as his son, Kim Jong Un, potentially brought the world one step closer to nuclear Armageddon.

“Under the strategic decision of leader Kim Jong-Un, the scientists and technicians of North Korea’s Academy of Defence-Science have successfully test-fired the newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-14.”

The video concluded with an image of the current North Korean leader striking a studious pose at his desk, after explaining that during its supposed 39-minute flight “the ICBM reached an altitude of 2802 kilometres and flew a 933 kilometre distance”.

North Korea is now capable of defending the Korean peninsula and “putting an end to the US nuclear war threat and blackmail”, according the announcement.

UPPING THE ANTE?

THIS “success” brought the number of North Korean missile launches into double figures for the year, representing the latest example of the state’s disregard for the UN Security Council.

As recently as June 3, the UN Security Council unanimously voted in favour of a resolution which brought forward fresh sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s regime, condemning the administration’s continued proliferation of its nuclear and ballistics programme.

As well as an asset and travel freeze, North Korea had already been banned from launching ballistic missiles.

Seemingly unfazed by such measures, launches have continued, straining already tense relations in the region further.

Japanese defence officials are concerned that the missile may have landed in its exclusive economic zone, while South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in advised North Korea not to cross the “bridge of no return”.

China remains one of the few nations with diplomatic ties still open to North Korea and sought to de-escalate the tension.

“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is sensitive and complex,” said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang. “We hope all relevant parties will exercise restraint and avoid taking actions that may escalate tensions”.

TRUMPED-UP FIGURES?

THE Russian Defence Ministry immediately contradicted North Korean reports, arguing the distance travelled by the missile was insufficient to qualify the warhead as the much-feared ICBM.

It’s tracking systems recorded a flight distance of 535 kilometres at an altitude of 510 kilometres – classifying it as a “medium-range ballistic missile”.

“The launch was carried out in a direction away from Russia’s borders, and did not pose a threat to the Russian Federation”, the Russian military added.

US defence officials agreed with the “medium-range” assessment, arguing the launch posed no threat to their homeland.

South Korea’s Defence Ministry, however, measured a similar flight distance to their Northern neighbour’s figures, while one US scientist has claimed the missile could potentially be powerful enough to reach Alaska.

David Wright, a physicist with the aptly named Union of Concerned Scientists, believes the warhead could have a potential range of approximately 6700 kilometres.

A senior international defence researcher at RAND Corp, Bruce Bennett, explained to CNN why confusion over the classification of the launch exists.

“The bottom line is, they’ve flown it very high so that they can test the range of the missile. If they were to shoot it on a normal trajectory, it’s probably going to go out 6000 or so kilometers. By definition, anything over 5500 kilometers is an ICBM”, he said.

Despite the bold claims of North Korean state television, contemporary experts remain sceptical about the country’s nuclear capability.

Namely, the ability of the North Korean military to control the accuracy of such weapons has been cast in doubt. The technology necessary to miniaturise a nuclear warhead is also believed to be absent.
 

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY?

NOT quite. The launch conveniently took place on July 4, satisfying both Kim Jong Un’s wish to expand the country’s nuclear capability and send a proverbial two fingers to the US.

President Trump, who previously insisted a North Korean ICBM launch “won’t happen”, was evidently untroubled by the delicate nature of nuclear stand-offs.

He provided a reply through his usual medium – appealing to North Korea’s neighbours to do more.

“North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!” he tweeted.

Senior research associate at the James Martin Centre for Non-proliferation Studies Melissa Hanham claimed the test had landed Trump in a tight spot.

“I think there’s room for negotiation, but it’s not the kind of negotiations we want,” she said.

Instead of eliminating the North Korean missile threat to the US mainland, the US can now merely hope to limit it, she argued.