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North Korea’s Most Significant Weapon Launch in Years Tests the Waters of Diplomacyng Guam

Kim Jong Un

North Korea has confirmed the test-launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, capable of reaching the US territory of Guam, its most significant weapon launch in years. The Sunday launch comes after a series of recent missile tests by the North, which have been seen as a way to pressure the Biden administration and potentially win sanction relief or international recognition as a legitimate nuclear state. According to the official Korean Central News Agency, the purpose of the test was to verify the overall accuracy of the Hwasong-12 missile, which is being deployed in the North’s military. The missile flew about 800 kilometers and reached a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometers before landing between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, making it the most powerful missile North Korea has tested since 2017.

The Hwasong-12 missile is a nuclear-capable ground-to-ground weapon with a maximum range of 4,500 kilometers, sufficient to reach Guam, home to US military bases. North Korea has threatened to make “an enveloping fire” near Guam with Hwasong-12 missiles in the past, and testing the missile’s capabilities could be a way to demonstrate its military might. Some analysts say North Korea still needs to conduct additional test-flights to prove it has overcome the last remaining technological hurdles, such as protecting a warhead from the extreme heat and pressure of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The North has publicly vowed to add more powerful missiles and nuclear warheads to its arsenal, and Sunday’s launch is seen as a step towards that goal.

Kim Jong Un

The Biden administration plans to respond to the latest missile test with an unspecified move meant to demonstrate its commitment to allies’ security in the region, and is calling on North Korea to return to talks. South Korean and Japanese officials have condemned the launch, viewing it as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions that bans the country from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. While the North has repeatedly launched a variety of weapons systems recently, including a developmental hypersonic missile and a submarine-launched missile, Sunday’s launch is seen as the most significant in years due to its capabilities and the associated threat it poses to the US mainland. The launch highlights the need for continued diplomatic efforts to address North Korea’s nuclear program and prevent further escalation in the region.

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