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Security Brief

North Korea Tests New Ballistic Missile Ahead of Nuclear Talks

The launch is Pyongyang’s most provocative since before the Singapore summit.

A man watches a television news screen reporting latest developments on North Korea's missile launch as the screen shows file footage, at a railway station in Seoul on October 2, 2019. (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)
A man watches a television news screen reporting latest developments on North Korea's missile launch as the screen shows file footage, at a railway station in Seoul on October 2, 2019. (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

What’s on tap: A fresh round of nuclear talks could be on ice after North Korea launched a new type of missile, Beijing shows off its new weapons, Bell reveals a new attack helicopter for the Army, and Trump’s top sanctions chief steps down. 

Pyongyang Brandishes New Missile 

North Korea successfully tested a new submarine-launched ballistic missile on Wednesday, a provocative move that could potentially derail a fresh round of nuclear talks with the United States planned for this weekend. 

New capability. Photos released by North Korea’s Central News Agency show a new type of weapon, the Pukguksong-3, emerging vertically from the sea–likely from a test platform rather than a submarine, which would be the final stage of testing. The missile appeared to be a new design that enhanced range and stability compared with a version tested in 2016, experts told Reuters. South Korea’s military said the missile flew 280 miles (450 km), reaching altitudes of 565 miles (910 km).

What’s different this time? While North Korea has launched multiple short-range missiles in recent weeks, it has not launched a medium-range missile such as the Pukguksong-3 since 2017, before the historic Singapore summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June 2018. The latest version of the Pukguksong-3 is also the first nuclear-capable missile to be tested since November 2017. 

After more than a year of refraining from missile launches, North Korea has conducted 11 missile tests since May–including the Pukguksong launch–but most are believed to be of short-range missiles, according to CNN. Trump has played down the short-range tests even though they violate UN sanctions. 

Nuclear talks resume. The test comes hours after North Korea announced that it would resume working-level negotiations with the United States in Stockholm, Sweden, this weekend. Alex Ward at Vox has the scoop on the Trump administration’s proposal: the verifiable closure of the Yongbyon nuclear facility and possibly the end of North Korea’s uranium enrichment, in exchange for some sanctions relief. 

Fighter jet debut. The latest missile launch is reportedly not related to the upcoming talks, but instead a response to South Korea showcasing its U.S.-made F-35 fighter jets for the first time Tuesday. Pyongyang has angrily protested Seoul’s purchase of the radar-evading jet, claiming that the military buildup is aimed at destroying North Korea. 

China Rolls Out New Weaponry 

China marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic with a major display of new weaponry, rolling a suite of new missiles through Tiananmen square.

ICBM. The star of the show was China’s new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, the DF-41, a massive solid-fuel missile that represents the heart of Beijing’s nuclear deterrence. With a reportedly improved ability to evade missile defenses, the DF-41 represents China’s best bet to survive a first strike and retaliate. Also on display was the JL-2, China’s submarine-launched nuclear-capable ballistic missile. 

Hypersonic. Among the more intriguing weapons on display was the DF-17, a hypersonic glide vehicle planted atop a traditional booster. The new warhead extends the range of the weapon by adopting a gliding, rather than ballistic, flight path. American intelligence assesses the DF-17 to be nuclear capable, but a Chinese official described it as a conventional weapon during the parade. 

Drones. The Chinese military also rolled out a host of new unmanned vehicles, including the stealthy GJ-11 combat drone, a supersonic surveillance drone dubbed the WZ-8, and the HSU001 unmanned underwater vehicle. Taken together, the new UAVs represent a serious maturation in China’s drone capabilities. 

For further reading on the weapons Beijing unveiled, see Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists and Ankit Panda of the Diplomat. 

What We’re Watching 

Impeachment tick-tock. Before formally filing a whistleblower complaint about President Donald Trump’s attempt to pressure his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate his political enemies, the CIA officer alerted the House Intelligence Committee about his concerns, the New York Times reports

Kurt Volker testifies. The former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, heads to Capitol Hill today to testify behind closed doors about what he observed of President Donald Trump’s effort to recruit foreign leaders to secure political dirt on his enemies. 

Iran talks. President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, agreed on a French-brokered agreement to restart talks between the United States and Iran before Rouhani pulled out after demanding that Washington first lift sanctions, Politico reports

DoD’s new China office. In June, the Department of Defense discreetly created a new job: the deputy assistant secretary of defense for China. The move is aimed at implementing the National Defense Strategy, the Pentagon’s latest guidance that outlines a shift in focus from counterterrorism to countering near-peer adversaries, particularly Beijing. 

Vintage warbird crash. Seven people aboard a vintage World War II B-17 were killed Wednesday when it crashed shortly after takeoff, erupting into flames at Bradley International Airport, just outside of Hartford, Connecticut. 

How the Taliban disrupted the Afghan election. While scores of attacks on Saturday contributed to low turnout in  Afghanistan’s presidential election, one factor complicated the effort more than any other: the Taliban’s tactic of destroying cellphone towers. The New York Times has a deep dive into the history and impact of the strategy.

Meanwhile, Military Times reports that as the war enters its 18th year, Afghan security forces are still heavily reliant on U.S. airpower for key operations, from moving cargo to conducting strikes. 

For more news and analysis from Foreign Policy and around the world, subscribe to Morning Brief, delivered weekday mornings.

Movers & Shakers 

Sanctions chief steps down. The Treasury department’s top sanctions official, Sigal Mandelker, is stepping down from her job and planning a return to the private sector. Mandelker has helped oversee the Trump administration’s aggressive use of sanctions, as the tool has become the White House’s primary tool of foreign policy. 

One more resignation… The Department of Homeland Security’s James F. McDonnell, a presidential appointee who over the last two years scaled back the agency’s efforts to prevent terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction, also stepped down this week. 

Mueller moves on. Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller has returned to private practice at the powerhouse law firm WilmerHale. 

Technology & Cyber 

Invictus unveiled. Bell this week revealed its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, its answer to the Army’s call for a new generation of helicopters to replace its legacy UH-60 Black Hawks and AH-64 Apaches. Invictus will fly at speeds of 180 knots–much faster than its predecessors–and features cutting-edge high-speed rotor blades. Jen Judson at Defense News breaks down the new technology as the competition heats up. 

Disinformation. Researchers at Stanford have uncovered evidence of a widespread disinformation campaign in Libya on both sides of that country’s internecine civil war. 

Drone video. Iranian state television has been broadcasting video taken by U.S. drones operating above Iraq. Bellingcat has verified the video as authentic, but it is unclear how the video was obtained.

WannaCry. The WannaCry ransomware famously had a serious impact on the IT systems of British hospital, but a new study finds that the outbreak had no impact on patient mortality. 

The surveillance business. Best known for its work on radio and cellphone technology, Motorola is becoming an increasingly important player in the market for surveillance gear. 

Ad targeting. The FBI is running ads on Facebook targeting Russian speakers in the Washington, D.C.-area and appear to be geared toward recruiting spies, CNN reports

Quote of the Week 

“You are making me look like an idiot!” –President Donald Trump addresses his aides during a week in March during which he proposed building a moat on the U.S.-Mexico border and filling it with snakes and alligators. 

FP Recommends 

Fired for doing his job? Yahoo News examines why a decorated Pentagon bureaucrat who oversaw massive defense contracts and is credited with saving billions of dollars was pushed out of his job after raising allegations of fraud and abuse. 

That’s it for today. To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here or sign-up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to


Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

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