North Korea claims to have tested cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the launch of two long-range strategic cruise missiles, state media reported on Thursday, calling it a test to confirm the reliability and functioning of nuclear-capable weapons deployed on units. military.
The test firings took place on Wednesday and were aimed at « improving the effectiveness and combat power » of cruise missiles deployed in the Korean People’s Army « for the operation of tactical nuclear bombs », the agency said. Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) official press release.
Stressing that the test launch was another clear warning to its « enemies », Kim said the country « should continue to expand the operational sphere of nuclear strategic armed forces to resolutely deter any crucial military crisis and war crisis at all times. moment and take the initiative completely,” according to KCNA.
On Monday, KCNA said Kim had guided nuclear tactical exercises targeting South Korea for the past two weeks to protest recent joint naval drills by South Korean and U.S. forces involving an aircraft carrier.
KCNA reported that the two missiles tested on Wednesday flew for 10,234 seconds and « clearly hit the target 2,000 kilometers away ».
A US State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the launches and said Washington remained focused on coordinating closely with allies and partners to deal with threats posed by North Korea.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s office has said the North’s cruise missiles pose no threat as they are « slow enough to be intercepted », but Seoul is ready to respond harshly to Pyongyang’s provocations with overwhelming forces ».
The South Korean military said it monitored the launch in real time and continued to analyze test data.
Develop smaller warheads
North Korea first tested a « strategic » cruise missile in September 2021, which was seen by analysts at the time as possibly the country’s first such weapon with nuclear capability.
Wednesday’s test confirms that nuclear role and that it is operational, although it is unclear whether North Korea can build warheads small enough for a cruise missile.
Cruise missiles are among a number of smaller weapons recently developed by North Korea to fly low and maneuver to better evade missile defenses.
Kim said last year that developing smaller warheads was a top priority, and officials in Seoul said that if the North resumes nuclear testing for the first time since 2017, developing smaller devices could do part of its objectives.
North Korean cruise missiles generally attract less interest than ballistic missiles because they are not explicitly banned by UN Security Council resolutions.
Cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles that can be armed with conventional or nuclear warheads are particularly destabilizing in a conflict because it can be unclear what type of warhead they are carrying, analysts said.
« North Korea’s cruise missiles, air force and tactical nuclear devices are likely to be much worse than the propaganda suggests, » said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. « But it would be a mistake to call North Korea’s recent series of weapons tests bluster or saber-firing. »
Limited US options
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday rolled out a long-delayed national security strategy with a single reference to North Korea, highlighting limited U.S. options to contain its nuclear and missile programs.
Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia under former President Barack Obama, said it was striking, « not only because it moves so quickly beyond a persistent threat and existential, but also because it defines the strategy as ‘seeking sustained diplomacy towards denuclearization' ». « , while North Korea has so convincingly demonstrated its total rejection of negotiations. »
WATCH | Joly from Canada calls for peace on the Korean Peninsula:
A report by the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said on Wednesday that a recent underwater launch of a ballistic missile from a lake likely has more political than military utility.
« Rather than an emerging threat, this test was most likely a propaganda and deception operation designed to draw regional and global attention to North Korea’s desired outward image of a mighty and powerful nation endowed with nuclear weapons, » the report said.
The North’s pursuit of new types of nuclear weapons has renewed calls by some in South Korea to redeploy US tactical nuclear weapons, which were withdrawn in 1991, or for Seoul to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty and develop his own arsenal.
After backing the idea of asking the United States to redeploy nuclear weapons during last year’s election campaign, Yoon has since said that option was ruled out.
However, senior officials of that party said this week that it was time to reconsider.