North Korea’s launch on Sunday of its most-sophisticated missile yet offered new clues into how serious the country is in its nuclear ambitions
In the past three years, North Korea has launched more major missiles than in the three previous decades combined. That acceleration is one of the most dramatic signs of leader Kim Jong Un’s push to overhaul the country’s weapons program since he took power in late 2011. He has modernized production of nuclear and missile parts, upgraded the program within the military hierarchy and overtly pampered engineers, forcing Western leaders to worry more about Pyongyang’s intentions than ever before.
On Sunday, North Korea launched a newly developed intermediate-range missile, its 10th missile firing this year. Mr. Kim attended the test of the nuclear-capable missile and described it as a “perfect weapon system,” according to a state media report. Initial projections from several experts suggested it would be able to reach U.S. military forces in Guam.
Even apparent failed missile launches, like one that blew up within minutes on April 28, are now seen by independent experts as signs of North Korea’s progress. Learning from those failures would move the regime closer to its ultimate goal of mastering a long-range missile that could threaten the U.S. with nuclear attack.
North Korea warns that nuclear-armed missile can strike U.S. territory:
For decades, Mr. Kim’s father and grandfather used the country’s missile program to gain leverage in diplomatic talks and revenue from weapon exports. Technological advances came slowly. That changed when Kim Jong Il died and was succeeded by his youngest son, believed to be 33 years old.
The dictator has shown no interest in negotiating with the U.S. about the missile program, and North Korea’s nuclear ambition and skill are advancing much more quickly.
The country is conducting missile tests with the frequency needed to ensure the weapons can be reliably used in conflict. A range of recent breakthroughs has forced the U.S. and its allies to review their missile defenses.
Could North Korea trigger a nuclear war?
“Kim Jong Un very much wants to reach out and touch the homeland,” Gen. Lori Robinson, head of the U.S. Northern Command, the part of the military responsible for defending the U.S. mainland, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in April.
Tackling the threat could become an early point of tension between U.S. President Donald Trump, who is trying to pressure Pyongyang into changing course, and new South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who favors diplomacy and economic engagement with North Korea. North Korea has said through state media that it has no choice but to advance its nuclear and missile development to defend itself from attack. It has said its weapons program is impervious to sanctions and is already capable of hitting the U.S. with a nuclear-tipped missile. source