(Please see our update at the bottom of this post.)
On Monday night, President Trump tweeted an insult at North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un for not having anything better to do than launch missiles (which he did on Tuesday morning, North Korea time). Well, the missile in question landed close to 600 miles away in the sea between Japan and North Korea, and further analysis by military officials and scientists say that the duration and trajectory of the missile could suggest something terribly dangerous. That is to say, this could have been North Korea’s first successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which is exactly what Pyongyang is claiming happened as part of their enduring efforts to reach not only U.S. military bases in Japan but also the U.S. mainland.
North Korea has embellished their missile and nuclear prowess on several occasions, but the New York Times has more on the trajectory and points out that the U.S. initially believed this was not an ICBM, but given that Korean State TV is claiming that the missile reached 1,741 miles in altitude, further analysis will be ongoing:
The announcement came hours after a launch that the United States military said had sent the missile aloft for 37 minutes. That duration, analysts said, suggested a significant improvement in the range of the North’s missiles, and it might allow one to travel as far as 4,000 miles and hit Alaska.
In an initial statement, the United States Pacific Command described the weapon as an intermediate-range missile rather than an intercontinental ballistic missile. But South Korean and Japanese officials said they were studying the data to determine if it was an ICBM.
Indeed, the claimed altitude would qualify as a record for North Korea and point toward significant advances in their missile and nuclear programs. The timing of the launch (July 4, obviously) may also be no coincidence, since Kim Jong-un often puts his defiance toward the U.S on maximum display, and North Korea’s foreign ministry recently claimed that North Korea is “the biggest victim” in ex-detainee Otto Warmbier’s “mystery” death.
In addition, this missile test has occurred mere days before the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. At this event, President Trump and other world leaders were slated to discuss Kim Jong-un’s nuclear programs — after Trump slammed China‘s efforts to pressure North Korea (with Trump saying, “It has not worked out”). Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the G-20 meeting, but he recently complained about “negative factors” in relations between the U.S. and China, so this summit should be a tense one. (Plus, Trump’s meeting with Putin in a formal sit-down meeting. Fun!)
CNN reports that U.S. military officials gathered for an emergency July 4th meeting to hash out what tactics will be taken if North Korea indeed successfully tested an ICBM. However, it’s currently understood that the country hasn’t yet developed nuclear warheads that are compact enough to fit on one of these missiles. Surely, they’re working on that capability, too.
UPDATE #1 – 1:50pm: Multiple U.S. officials have reportedly confirmed to NBC News that North Korea did successfully launch a “two-stage” ICBM with a range of over 3,500 miles, which means the country can now successfully strike Alaska.