North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that landed near Japanese waters Friday in its second major weapons test this month, South Korea and Japan said. The missile had the potential to reach all of the U.S. mainland, according to Japan’s defense minister.
The United States quickly condemned the launch and vowed to take “all necessary measures” to guarantee the safety of its own mainland and of allies South Korea and Japan.
At the regional APEC summit in Bangkok, Thailand, Vice President Kamala Harris called Friday’s launch a “brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security resolutions” that “destabilizes security in the region, and unnecessarily raises tensions. We strongly condemn these actions and we again call for North Korea to stop further unlawful, destabilizing acts. On behalf of the United States, I reaffirm our ironclad commitment to our Indo-Pacific alliances.
“Together, the countries represented here will continue to urge North Korea to commit to serious and sustained diplomacy,” she continued.
Later Friday, South Korea’s military said its F-35 fighter jets conducted drills simulating aerial strikes on North Korean mobile missile launchers. The drill took place at a firing range near its land border with the North. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said eight South Korean and U.S. fighter jets separately performed flight training off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast.
The exercises “showed we have a strong resolve to sternly deal with an ICBM launch and any other provocations and threats posed by North Korea, and the allies’ overwhelming capacity and readiness to launch precision strikes on the enemy,” the Joint Chiefs said in a statement.
Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergei Ryabkov, on the other hand, was quoted by the state-run RIA Novosti news agency as saying that that while Moscow prefers a diplomatic approach toward the Korean peninsula, “it’s been particularly evident recently that the United States and its allies in the region prefer a different path. It’s as if Pyongyang’s patience is being tested.” Agence France-Presse reported on Moscow’s reaction.
Pyongyang’s ongoing torrid run of weapons tests seeks to advance its nuclear arsenal and win greater concessions in eventual diplomacy, and the launches come as China and Russia have opposed U.S. moves to toughen sanctions aimed at curbing the North’s nuclear program.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected the ICBM launch from North Korea’s capital region around 10:15 a.m. and the weapon flew toward the North’s eastern coast across the country. Japan said the ICBM appeared to have flown on a high trajectory and landed west of Hokkaido.
According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the North Korean missile flew about 3,600-3,790 miles at a maximum altitude of 620 miles.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters the altitude suggests the missile was launched on a high angle. He said depending on the weight of a warhead placed on the missile, the weapon has a range exceeding 9,320 miles, “in which case it could cover the entire mainland United States.”
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the launch “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing” regional security while showing the North’s prioritizing of unlawful weapons programs over the well-being of its people. She said President Biden was briefed over the launch.
“Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions and instead choose diplomatic engagement,” Watson said.
Hamada, the Japanese defense minister, called the launch “a reckless act that threatens Japan as well as the region and the international community.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff called the launch “a grave provocation and serious threat” that undermines international and regional peace and security. It said South Korea maintains readiness to make “an overwhelming response to any North Korean provocation” amid close coordination with the United States.
After being briefed on the launch, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered officials to boost security cooperation with the United States and Japan and to implement unspecified deterrence steps that were previously agreed upon with the United States. Yoon also ordered officials to push for strong international condemnations and sanctions on North Korea, according to his office.
North Korea also launched an ICBM on Nov. 3, but experts said that weapon failed to fly its intended route and fell into the ocean after a stage separation. That test was believed to have involved a developmental ICBM called Hwasong-17.
North Korea has two other types of ICBMs – Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 – and their test-launches in 2017 proved they could potentially reach parts of the U.S. homeland.
The Hwasong-17 has a longer potential range than the others, and its huge size suggests it’s designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads to defeat missile defense systems. Some experts say the Nov. 3 test showed some technological progress in the development of the Hwasong-17, given that in its earlier test in March, the missile exploded soon after liftoff.
It wasn’t immediately known if North Korea launched a Hwasong-17 missile again on Friday or something else.
In recent months, North Korea has performed dozens of shorter-range missile tests that it called simulations of nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets. But it had halted weapons launches for about a week before it fired a short-range ballistic missile on Thursday.
Before Thursday’s launch, the North’s foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, threatened to launch “fiercer” military responses to the U.S. bolstering its security commitment to its allies South Korea and Japan.
Choe was referring to Mr. Biden’s recent trilateral summit with Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the sidelines of a regional gathering in Cambodia. In their joint statement, the three leaders strongly condemned North Korea’s recent missile tests and agreed to work together to strengthen deterrence. Mr. Biden reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea and Japan with a full range of capabilities, including its nuclear arms.
Choe didn’t say what steps North Korea could take but said that “the U.S. will be well aware that it is gambling, for which it will certainly regret.”
Pyongyang sees the U.S. military presence in the region as proof of its hostility toward North Korea. It has said its recent series of weapons launches were its response to what it called provocative military drills between the United States and South Korea.
North Korea has been under multiple rounds of United Nations sanctions over its previous nuclear and missile tests. But no fresh sanctions have been applied this year though it has conducted dozens of ballistic missile launches, which are banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions.
That’s possibly because China and Russia, two of the U.N. council’s veto-wielding members, oppose new U.N. sanctions. Washington is locked in a strategic competition with Beijing and in a confrontation with Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
The U.N. Security Council was to meet again on Monday morning, November 21, in an urgent session to discuss the next steps over Pyongyang’s violations of Council resolutions, CBS News correspondent Pamela Falk reported from U.N. headquarters.
There have been concerns that North Korea might conduct its first nuclear test in five years as its next major step toward bolstering its military capability against the United States and its allies.
In late October, U.S. and South Korean officials confirmed to CBS News that Pyongyang is preparing to test an atomic weapon soon, in what would be its first nuclear test since 2017.
The North has argued a U.S. military presence in the region as proof of its hostility toward the country. It has said its recent series of weapons launches were response to what it called provocative military drills between the United States and South Korea.