Nordkorea claims to have tested a “newly developed” type of cruise missile that could possibly be used as a nuclear weapon. Pyongyang spoke of a “strategic weapon” on Monday. In North Korean usage, this means a nuclear armed weapon system. The cruise missiles were tested on Saturday and Sunday, said the Defense Science Academy in Pyongyang. They flew 1,500 kilometers, had been in the air for more than two hours and, with their trajectory over North Korean territory, modeled the number eight and an oval before they hit targets in the sea. With the range mentioned, the cruise missiles could reach South Korea and Japan.
According to the academy, the start was not supervised by ruler Kim Jong-un. Its presence would have given the weapons tests an even greater political significance. The official South Korean news agency Yonhap spoke of a “low level provocation”. When compared to ballistic missile tests, cruise missiles are often viewed as a less powerful provocation because they are not explicitly banned by United Nations resolutions in North Korea.
A weapon that can be equipped with nuclear weapons would also be a violation of the relevant resolutions, as these prohibit North Korea from developing weapons of mass destruction. According to experts, it is unclear whether the country is able to shrink nuclear warheads so much that they can be transported by cruise missiles. Disarmament expert Jeffrey Lewis from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies sees the latest weapons tests as a “serious ability of North Korea” to overcome missile defense systems, as he wrote on Twitter.
No more movement in negotiations
South Korea confirmed the tests on Monday, saying, “Our military is conducting a detailed analysis in close collaboration with US intelligence agencies.” The American Indo-Pacific Command said, “This activity shows that North Korea is continuing to develop its military program focused and poses a threat to its neighbors and the international community ”. Japan was “extremely concerned”.
North Korea’s ruler Kim Jong-un had already announced at a party congress in January that his country had developed medium-range cruise missiles “with the most powerful warheads in the world”. In the speech he pointed out that South Korea was also developing new cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. This marks an arms race between the two Koreas. On Monday, Pyongyang also described the cruise missiles as a response to the “military steps taken by enemy forces”.
This could refer to the recent joint exercises by the American and South Korean forces in August. The ruler’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, had announced a strong reaction at the time. The timing of the tests is also likely to be related to talks by South Korea, Japan and America about reviving disarmament negotiations with North Korea.
The diplomats responsible met in Tokyo on Monday. The American representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, has stated that he is ready to hold talks with North Korea “anywhere, anytime”. However, Pyongyang has so far left attempts at contact unanswered. Since the failed summit of Kim Jong-un and the then American President Donald Trump, there has been no further movement in the negotiations. KCNA reported Monday that the cruise missiles tested had been developed within the past two years.