North Korea announced on Monday that it had successfully carried out test fires of a new “long-range cruise missile” over the weekend, raising concern in Washington over the “threats” it poses to its countries. neighbors.
“This activity underlines the continued development by North Korea of its nuclear program and the threats that this poses to its neighbors and the international community,” the Pentagon reacted in a statement.
The test shots occurred on Saturday and Sunday, according to the official KCNA news agency.
The previous North Korean shootings, in March in the Sea of Japan, had already been interpreted as a sign of challenge to the administration of US President Joe Biden.
The missiles, of which KCNA published photos, traveled a trajectory of 1,500 kilometers, before reaching their target, not specified by the agency, which evokes “strategic weapons of great importance”.
“The effectiveness of this weapon system has confirmed its excellence,” said the official North Korean agency, celebrating a “weapon of deterrence” intended to “counter the military maneuvers of hostile forces.”
A real technological advance
These long-range cruise missiles, if confirmed to have them, would represent a technological breakthrough for North Korea, analysts said.
The South Korean military, which is usually the first source of information on North Korean fire, did not confirm the fire at first.
“Our soldiers are carrying out a detailed analysis, in close cooperation with South Korean and American intelligence,” the South Korean army reacted cautiously.
For Japan, a missile of such range “would present a threat to the peace and security of Japan and the surrounding region”.
“Japan is very concerned,” government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told reporters.
As it is described, this missile “represents a considerable threat”, worries Park Won-gon, specialist in North Korea at Ewha Womans University, questioned by AFP.
“If the North has sufficiently miniaturized the heads of its nuclear missiles, they can also be loaded on cruise missiles”, he speculates, fearing new tests, “very likely”.
What impact for this long-range cruise missile?
The resumption of test firing is a response to joint exercises by the South Korean and US armies last month, Park said.
The Pyongyang maneuver also comes days after South Korea announced a test launch of a strategic sea-to-ground ballistic missile (MSBS) of its own manufacture.
Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies is also worried about a new type of missile capable of hitting targets in South Korea and Japan.
“It’s a new system, made to go under anti-missile defense radars,” he worries.
North Korea had nevertheless given signs of goodwill, with last week a parade of tractors and fire trucks rather than the usual tanks and missiles, for its third parade in less than a year, at the occasion of the anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of the northern peninsula.
Pyongyang has used military parades on several occasions in the past to send messages abroad and to its own people, usually on certain birthdays.
Several United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea from continuing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Biden in Trump’s footsteps
But, although hit by multiple international sanctions, this country has rapidly developed its military capabilities in recent years under the leadership of Kim Jong Un.
North Korea has carried out several nuclear tests and successfully tested ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.
Nuclear talks with Washington have been suspended since the failure of the Hanoi summit in February 2019 between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump.
Current US President Joe Biden’s representative for North Korea has repeatedly expressed his willingness to meet his North Korean counterparts “anywhere, anytime”.
The Biden administration has promised a “practical, calibrated approach,” with diplomatic efforts to induce Pyongyang to abandon its weapons program, which North Korea has never been ready to do.
At the end of August, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had reported “signs” indicating that North Korea seemed to have restarted its reactor producing plutonium in the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
The IAEA had estimated that the signs of operation of the reactor were “deeply disturbing”.