This photo illustration shows a person in Seoul on Thursday pointing to a computer screen page of the North Korean newspaper “Rodong Sinmun” displaying news of North Korea’s Musudan missile test the day before.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un hailed the successful test of a powerful new medium-range missile as a direct threat to U.S. military bases across the Pacific, as the U.N. Security Council met late Wednesday to consider its response.
Mr. Kim, who personally monitored Wednesday’s Musudan missile test, applauded a “great event” that significantly bolstered the North’s pre-emptive nuclear attack capability, the official KCNA news agency reported.
“We have the sure capability to attack in an overall and practical way the Americans in the Pacific operation theatre,” Mr. Kim was quoted as saying.
The Musudan has a theoretical range of anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 km, with the upper estimate covering U.S. military bases as far away as Guam.
After a string of failures in recent months, North Korea tested two Musudans on Wednesday, one of which flew 400 km into the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
KCNA said the missile had been fired at a high angle to simulate its full range, and had reached a maximum height of more than 1,400 km.
The success of the test “marked an important occasion in further strengthening the nuclear attack capacity of our state,” Mr. Kim said.
The launch was condemned by the international community and the U.N. Security Council met for closed-door consultations on how best to respond.
France’s deputy U.N. ambassador Alexis Lamek, whose country holds the council presidency, told reporters after the meeting that Council members had been united in “deep concern and opposition” to the test which was a clear violation of U.N. resolutions.
Existing U.N. measures prohibit North Korea from using ballistic missile technology.
The United States, NATO and Japan also denounced the test, with South Korea vowing to push for tighter sanctions on Pyongyang.
Experts warned that Wednesday’s success marked a significant step forward for a weapons programme that ultimately aspires to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering a nuclear strike on the U.S. mainland.
The North has displayed an ICBM, called the KN-08, which uses the same engine technology as the Musudan but has never been test-fired.
ICBM test next?
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Non-proliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said the international community had to find a way to get Pyongyang to accept a missile test moratorium.
“If we do nothing, this ends in a successful flight test of the Musudan-based KN-08,” Mr. Lewis said.
The front and inside pages of Thursday’s edition of North Korea’s ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, were plastered with pictures of a clearly elated Kim Jong-Un watching the test and celebrating with military scientists.
There were also multiple photos of the missile blasting off from a mobile launcher near the eastern port of Wonsan.
The international outcry suggests North Korea could face renewed sanctions, either on a unilateral level or from the United Nations.
After Pyongyang conducted a fourth nuclear test on January 6, 2016, followed by a long-range rocket launch February 7, the Security Council adopted its most punishing sanctions yet against North Korea.
Any further measures would require the support of veto-wielding permanent council member China, traditionally the North’s closest ally.
Responding to Wednesday’s launch, China’s Foreign Ministry had cautioned against “any action that may escalate tension” and called for a resumed dialogue on Pyongyang’s nuclear drive.
U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, meanwhile, stressed the importance of strengthening U.S. missile defence systems, including those deployed among regional allies South Korea and Japan — a strategy strongly opposed by China.
“We need to stay ahead of the threat by making sure that our missile defenses are good qualitatively, but also constantly expanding,” Mr. Carter said.