North Korea Launches ICBM-class Ballistic Missile

After a more than 2-month lull, North Korea launched a missile in the early hours of November 29th, once again sparking tensions across the globe. The missile flew from the north of Pyongyang and splashed down into the Sea of Japan.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said soon after, "Because it apparently flew well over 4,000 kilometers, we assume it was launched in a so-called lofted trajectory. We presume it's an ICBM class of missile judging from the height and trajectory."

At that height, the missile would be the North's highest ever launched. Onodera said it fell into the country's exclusive economic zone after flying for more than 50 minutes. He added that the missile appears to have separated into several pieces while flying, and said, "We will continue to analyze what kind of ICBM they launched. We think the missile may be a multi-staged one."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the media "This missile launch is a blatant violation of the will of the international community. We can't tolerate such an act. We have lodged a strong protest with North Korea."

Abe also spoke with US President Donald Trump over the phone. Japanese government officials say the 2 leaders agreed they must strengthen their defense capabilities to deter the North's threat. They also reportedly agreed that China needs to play a greater role in dealing with the issue.

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono said, "There will be no bright future unless there is a solution to the nuclear and missile issues, as well as the abduction issue. Some point out that the North has refrained from launching a missile for about 2 months. But that's nothing to praise, as they shouldn't be conducting them in the first place. It's clear the North had been preparing for a missile launch."

Later in the day, North Korea's state-run media announced in a TV broadcast that the missile was a Hwasong-15 ICBM.

It said, "After watching the successful launch of the new ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim Jong Un declared with pride that today, we finally completed the historic project to build a nation with nuclear force and powerful missiles, demonstrating a great national achievement."

The broadcast showed images of the North's leader Kim Jong Un apparently signing the order for the launch.

The North's previous launch in mid-September flew over northern Japan.

The US, South Korea, and EU react

The latest launch is the first since the United States relisted North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

President Trump said, "A missile was launched a while ago from North Korea. We'll tell you that we will take care of it. We have General Mattis in the room with us and we've had a long discussion on it and it is a situation that we will handle."

Donald Trump says this will not change his policy. He's warned he would ''totally destroy'' North Korea if forced to defend the US and its allies. Trump has repeatedly called on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the international community must do more to enhance maritime security, including the right to interdict ships transporting goods to and from North Korea.

Tillerson also says the US and Canada will convene a meeting of countries that sent troops to the UN Command during the Korean War, as well as Japan, to discuss how to deal with the threat.

Reaction from South Korea was swift. Within minutes after the North's launch, its military held its own missile-firing test. Its president is urging the North to engage in dialogue instead of reckless acts.

"We have no choice but to push for strong sanctions and continue pressure on the North with the international community, until Pyongyang abandons its nuclear and missile development program," President Moon Jae-in said.

The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon. Koro Bessho, the Japanese Ambassador to UN, said, "Through the discussion, we will seek the best way to make Pyongyang give up its nuclear arms program.”

A spokesperson for the European Union denounced North Korea for the launch. A statement called it a "further unacceptable violation of its international obligations."

Expert Analysis

Yoji Koda, a former Vice Admiral for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, spoke to NHK World's Miki Yamamoto about the issue.

Yamamoto: The last time the North launched a missile, it flew over Japan. This time, we're hearing it took a lofted trajectory. Why do you think that was?

Koda: The reason why North Korea launched this missile by a lofted trajectory is, there are 2 fundamental unsolved problems.

One is the technology for the re-entry of the warhead. The other one is the rocket technology to put the warhead into space -- a so-called 2-stage missile, rocket. There was some problem in the second stage in the 2 previous launches, so North Korea had to solve those problems through the third lofted trajectories.

So, technology is the primary reason. At the same time, there is a secondary reason. That is, political considerations...provocation toward the US or the international community. So today's launch contains 2 reasons -- one is technology, and the second is political considerations.

Yamamoto: It seems the North's missile technology has been rapidly advancing. What does the latest launch tell us about the technology?

Koda: The amount of information available at this moment is very limited. But judging from the information available, today's launch seemed to be successful. If that is successful, we need to re-estimate the performance of the missile.

Most likely, the missile has the capability to reach the US mainland, not fully, but western parts of the United States at a range of about 10,000 km. So if this is correct, North Korea really successfully gained the technology for the ICBM, or intercontinental ballistic missile, so this is a huge advancement for North Korea. So I think this is a very important signal to the United States.

Yamamoto: Why did they launch it now and what was the message from Pyongyang?

Koda: In September of last year, North Korea started very aggressive nuclear tests and missile testing. But at some point this summer, most likely August or September, North Korea stopped provoking the US very badly. Rather, they started keeping a low profile. I think there are important reasons for North Korea to keep a low profile.

That is, the US anger, political anger, both by the US government and the American people, and second is the strong pressure from the international community represented by the very hard UN resolution on Sept. 11. Even the very hard-line North Korea had to take those 2 important elements into consideration. So those are the reasons for North Korea's quietness, or low profile, for the last 2 or 3 months.

But at the same time, there is one very indispensable requirement from the military or the nation as North Korea, that is, the test of the ICBM. So North Korea at some point had to do that. They have to take the balance between the political pressure and the military requirement. One thing that really triggered North Korea to go for this launch attempt is President Trump's redesignation of North Korea as a sponsor state for terrorism. So that was the kind of final key for North Korea to go for this missile launch.

Yamamoto: What comes next?

Koda: If this third launch is successful, North Korea needs to conduct an operational trajectory launch that really shows its capability -- full performance capability -- that is the range to 10,000 km...some point in the middle of the pacific. That is the next step, most likely, that North Korea would take.

NHK World Correspondent Yoshiyuki Aoki also offered insight into the issue.

Yamamoto: Why do you think North Korea has launched another ballistic missile at this time?

Aoki: Apparently, the North is aiming to escalate its threat against the US. Last week, the US has relisted the North as a state sponsor of terrorism. It followed the conclusion of President Donald Trump's first Asia tour, where he called on the region and the world to put more pressure on Pyongyang.

The US then imposed new sanctions on the North, targeting individuals, companies and transportation networks that do business with Pyongyang. The North condemned the move, saying, it will strengthen its deterrence as long as the US continues its hostile policy against them.

And I'd like to note North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a statement in September to condemn Trump that they will “consider with seriousness the exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.” We're not sure whether this missile launch is the countermeasure, but we will wait and see what the North will mention about it.

Yamamoto: How do you think the international community should deal with it?

Aoki: Urgent action is needed to stop the North’s ambition to pursue nuclear and missile programs. The South Korean Unification Minister said on Tuesday that the North will possibly announce the completion of an ICBM within the next year.

However, it may be very difficult to find a way to hold dialogue with North Korea. The US says diplomacy remains the preferred solution, but the North has kept saying it will never have a dialogue dealing with denuclearization.

Many countries including Japan and the US have urged China to press Pyongyang because China has a long relationship with the North. But their relations have recently soured. President Xi Jinping sent a special envoy to Pyongyang, but Kim Jong Un reportedly didn't meet him.

The UN Security Council will be holding an emergency meeting later while the North has been steadily advancing missile capabilities. We need to see how the member countries will talk about countermeasures against North Korea.