N. Korea ICBM Launch
Global talks are underway on sanctions against North Korea following the regime's test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) named Hwasong-14. But a clear divide on the North Korea issue appears to be forming between South Korea, the U.S., and Japan on one side, and China and Russia on the other.
North Korea fired the ICBM early Tuesday and announced a successful launch the next day. Seoul's Defense Ministry has classified the projectile fired toward the East Sea as an ICBM.
Defense Minister Han Min-koo on Wednesday brought the assessment to the National Assembly defense committee, citing analysis of the missile's altitude, flight distance, speed, and the stage rocket separation process.
He said the missile's travel speed is far below Mach 20 and is believed to be an early stage ICBM. The minister added that it's difficult to definitively say whether the North has successfully developed an ICBM.
The South Korean military classifies a missile as an ICBM if it has a range of over 5,500 kilometers and a maximum speed of over Mach 21 in the ascent stage. Hwasong-14's range is believed to be over 8,000 kilometers, but its speed falls short of the set threshold.
North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency said the latest experiment successfully tested warhead reentry technologies and stage rocket separations.
In the wake of the provocation, South Korea convened a National Security Council meeting, issued a statement of condemnation, and also held a joint drill with the U.S. in a show of force and to serve as a warning to the North.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the two sides staged a ballistic missile exercise in the East Sea early Wednesday. The drill mobilized South Korea’s Hyunmoo-2A ballistic missile and the U.S. Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, to demonstrate their combined firepower and ability to deliver precision strikes against enemy targets.
The exercise is seen as President Moon Jae-in's expressed resolve to retaliate against the North's provocations through action and not just words.
The UN Security Council held an urgent meeting Wednesday while Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo agreed to stronger sanctions. The UNSC is known to have pushed for a press statement denouncing Pyongyang, but this did not go through due to Russia's opposition. Moscow claimed the Hwasong-14 was not an ICBM but a medium-range missile.
Skipping a press statement, the council is set to directly move on to drafting a new sanctions resolution.
While meeting in Hamburg, Germany, for the Group of 20 summit, the leaders of South Korea, the U.S., and Japan on Thursday agreed to step up sanctions and pressure on North Korea bilaterally and at the UNSC. They also agreed to induce a bigger role from China.
But it’s to be seen how response measures can be coordinated with China and Russia pushing for more dialogue.