- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
Just three weeks after North Korea first demonstrated that it can launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, the defiant regime did it again on Friday, marking the country’s second ICBM test this month.
The Pentagon confirmed Friday afternoon that the missile was launched from Mupyong-ni in the country’s northwest, near the Chinese border. The launch occurred at about 10:45 a.m. EST and traveled about 1,000 km. before splashing down in the Sea of Japan according to Pentagon officials.
The ICBM test “was expected,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Friday. “We are working with our interagency partners on a more detailed assessment,” he added.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile appears to have flown for about 45 minutes, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Japanese broadcaster NHK that “it possibly landed inside the exclusive economic zone.” That zone extends 230 miles from Japan’s coast.
The North has made major advances in its ballistic missile program over the past several years, and has conducted missile tests at a faster pace this year than at any other point in its history, presenting the Trump administration with a major test. So far, Washington has responded with increased sanctions and appeals to China to pressure its allies in Pyongyang.
In internal assessments by the Defense Intelligence Agency leaked earlier this week, U.S. analysts concluded North Korea would be able to field a nuclear-capable ICBM by next year, two years earlier than previously thought.
The July 4 launch, later identified as a Hwasong-14, represented “a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region and the world,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the time. That ICBM flew 1,730 miles above earth for 37 minutes before spiraling down into the Sea of Japan.
Although registering a high trajectory, the missile traveled less than 600 miles. But analysts believe it could have traveled as far as 4,200 miles if it had been fired at an angle meant to strike a target, putting all American military bases in the Pacific well within range, as well as Hawaii and Alaska.
Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, cautioned during a speech on Thursday that “time is running out” for a diplomatic solution to the North Korean crisis, as the Hermit kingdom becomes “more dangerous as the weeks go by.”
The Pyongyang regime also claims that the July 4 test helped it master the technology needed to deploy a nuclear warhead on the missile.
In response to the rapid pace of missile tests this year, the Pentagon shipped a THAAD missile defense system to South Korea, but the deployment has caused some consternation in Seoul, where a new government appears open to trying to improve relations with the North.
The Pentagon’s Davis said Friday, however, that “our commitment to the defense of our allies, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, in the face of these threats, remains ironclad. We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from any attack or provocation.”
The launch also comes at a difficult time for Japan, with Defense Minister Tomomi Inada announcing Thursday she would resign following allegations of possible wrongdoing regarding the deployment of Japanese troops serving as U.N. peacekeepers in South Sudan, and the increasing unpopularity of the Abe administration.
And despite the global community’s condemnation of the North’s activities, Trump administration officials and lawmakers are increasingly concerned that Russia is stepping up trade with Pyongyang in defiance of international sanctions, jeopardizing a U.S. effort to pressure Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.
Sen. Deb Fischer, (R-Neb.) chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said that Washington should increase missile defenses at home and in the Pacific region, to “put stronger pressure on this dangerous nation, as well as its patrons, China and Russia.”
Both of China and Russia have failed to enforce some sanctions the United Nations has sought to put in place. Fischer called for the Trump administration to “take more unilateral measures, particularly secondary sanctions against those who enable the regime. Sitting by and allowing these tests to continue is not an option.”
Photo Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images