SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to further boost his country’s nuclear combat capabilities as he oversaw the country’s second test flight of a new missile intercontinental ballistic weapon designed to strike the continental United States, state media reported Thursday.
Kim’s statement suggested that North Korea would step up weapons testing activities to expand its arsenals in response to recent US moves to strengthen its security commitment to ally South Korea.
“The current unstable situation in which the security environment on the Korean Peninsula is under serious threat at every moment by the hostile forces,” Kim said, according to state media. “(This) requires more intense efforts to implement the line of strengthening nuclear war deterrence.”
Korea’s Central News Agency leaked Kim’s comments, after confirming that the North carried out a successful launch of the Hwasong-18 ICBM on Wednesday. The launch was first reported by its neighbors shortly after liftoff.
The Hwasong-18 is a developmental, road-mobile missile whose integrated solid propellant makes it harder for adversaries to detect its launches in advance than liquid-fueled missiles. North Korea first tested the missile in April and Kim called it the most powerful weapon in its nuclear forces.
KCNA said the launch was aimed at reconfirming the technical credibility and operational reliability of the missile. Kim called the launch “another important step” in efforts to bolster the North’s strategic forces, KCNA said.
According to KCNA, the missile was launched at a high angle to avoid neighboring countries. He said the weapon traveled 74 minutes and a distance of 1,001 kilometers (622 miles) at a maximum altitude of 6,648 kilometers (4,130 miles) before landing on the predefined area in the open waters off the north east coast.
The missile’s flight time is the longest ever recorded by a North Korean-launched weapon. If launched on a standard trajectory, the missile could fly towards the American mainland, although some experts say North Korea still has technologies to master to acquire functional nuclear missiles.
South Korea, Japan and the United States criticized North Korea for the launch, which they said posed a threat to regional and international peace. Adam Hodge, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement that the United States would take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and South Korean and Japanese allies.
Kim set himself unspecified tasks for the North’s national defense sector, saying North Korea would undertake “a series of stronger military offensives” until the United States and South Korea “admit their shameful defeat of their unnecessary hostile policy towards (North Korea) with despair and give strength to their policy.
This signals that Kim will step up his efforts to upgrade his missile arsenals with sophisticated weapons like the Hwasong-18. Other weapons on Kim’s publicly stated wish list are a multi-warhead missile, a hypersonic weapon, a spy satellite and a nuclear-powered submarine.
North Korea focused on boosting its nuclear capability after Kim’s high-stakes nuclear diplomacy collapsed with then-President Donald Trump in 2019 over disputes over US sanctions on Korea North.
KCNA accused the United States and South Korea of recently undertaking “frantic attempts at confrontation” and provoking “a new chain of nuclear crises” on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea often issues such harsh and belligerent rhetoric in times of tension with its rivals. The KCNA dispatch cited a U.S.-South Korean deal to boost allies’ deterrence capabilities, such as periodically docking a U.S. nuclear submarine in South Korea and establishing a new advisory group. bilateral nuclear power, whose inaugural meeting is scheduled for next week in Seoul.
The United States has expanded military exercises with South Korea and taken steps to improve “regular visibility” of US strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula in response to the North’s advancing nuclear arsenal. North Korea has conducted about 100 missile tests since the start of last year. Experts say Kim ultimately aims to use his expanded arsenal to win greater concessions in future diplomacy with the United States.
Wednesday’s ICBM launch came two days after Kim’s sister and senior adviser Kim Yo Jong threatened ‘shocking’ consequences for protesting what she called provocative state reconnaissance activity. States near its territory. The US and South Korean governments dismissed the North’s baseless accusation and urged it to refrain from any escalation.