North Korean Missile Tests Resume After Months-Long Lull
North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Monday that the country had successfully developed and tested a new long-range cruise missile, ostensibly able to hit targets at a range of nearly 1,000 miles.
The KCNA showed images of testing on Saturday and Sunday, including photos of missiles being fired from a truck and traveling through the air. The state-controlled outlet reported that the missiles remained in the air above North Korean territory for 126 minutes before striking their targets. While North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un was not in attendance at the test, Pak Jong Chon, Kim’s military chief, was in attendance and praised the launch afterward.
If authentic, KCNA’s footage depicts the first open North Korean weapons testing in months, amid an ongoing impasse between North Korea and the United States with regard to Pyongyang’s nuclear program. In a challenge to the United States and South Korea, North Korean state media strongly implied that nuclear warheads would be fitted onto the heads of the missiles.
The last pause in North Korean testing ended in March when Pyongyang fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea—seemingly as a test to probe the reaction of the newly inaugurated President Joe Biden.
The U.S. relationship with North Korea has experienced significant ups and downs over the past five years. Following an escalation of tensions in 2017, the administration of President Donald Trump openly courted Kim, with the two leaders sharing two high-profile summits in Singapore and Hanoi, as well as a third meeting at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and a handful of personal letters between the two.
The Biden administration’s special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, appears to have been more restrained in his approach than Trump, quietly advocating a return to nuclear talks and avoiding high-profile engagement. However, Pyongyang has so far refused dialogue, insisting that the United States should first remove sanctions on North Korea and end its military alliance with South Korea.
At the moment, though, there is mounting evidence that the U.S.-ROK alliance is the least of North Korea’s political problems. Recent floods, an officially-denied COVID-19 outbreak, and crippling economic sanctions have significantly hurt the country’s economy, prompting a rare admission of its challenges from Kim.
U.S., South Korean, and Japanese official statements objected to and strongly condemned North Korea’s launches. China, which maintains a complicated patron-client relationship with Pyongyang, expressed mild concern, urging “all parties concerned to exercise restraint” and reach a settlement through diplomacy and engagement.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.