North Korea still has a perfect failure record launching ballistic Musudan missiles, according to American and South Korean intelligence reports, but one of two missiles launched on Wednesday reached an altitude of 620 miles, the best yet on record.
Testing these missiles is a violation of United Nations sanctions and endangers neighbors like Japan and South Korea, as well as the American military base in Guam, all within range of a successful Musudan missile launch. North Korea has, nonetheless, attempted to successfully fire five of these missiles so far–and failed.
Reuters describes the missiles launched Wednesday as “intermediate-range” and says there is no confirmation, as Pyongyang has not commented, that these missiles are, in fact, the Musudan variety that South Korean and American officials believe them to be.
South Korean news outlet Yonhap confirms that the first missile shot appeared to disintegrate mid-air, while the other crashed into the sea between North Korea and Japan after achieving an altitude of 620 miles, according to South Korean national security officials. While this is far from the 2,180 mile-range a fully functional missile would be able to achieve – putting Guam in reach – it is still significantly farther than North Korea has previously been able to launch a missile. Yonhap claims that Seoul has evidence that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un personally watched the missile launches from the city of Wonsan on Wednesday morning.
“We don’t know whether it counts as a success, but North Korea has shown some capability with IRBMs (intermediate range ballistic missiles),” Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said in a press conference announcing the launch, adding that he feels the threat from North Korea to Japan directly is “intensifying.”
Reuters quotes an expert – Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies – as stating that the height of the missile “suggests the missile worked perfectly.” The height indicates North Korea diverted its path to avoid Japanese airspace. “Had it been fired at its normal angle, it would have flown to its full range,” he warned.
A South Korean military official told Yonhap that the missile launches, while being a threat to the entire region, appear specifically to target America. “North Korea’s obsession with the Musudan missile derives from its desire to show off a missile program capable of striking the U.S.,” the official said.
President Park Geun-hye of South Korea condemned the launch. “The government will continue to join hands with the international community to make Pyongyang realize it has no choice but to accept changes, and that there will be no future without giving up nukes,” she said in a meeting with the National Unification Advisory Council, according to Yonhap. “The development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles are grave provocations that threaten not only the peace of the Korean peninsula but that of Northeast Asia and the world.”
North Korea, meanwhile, continued to publish its daily propaganda articles condemning South Korea and the United States. “The U.S. is making great haste to put its nuclear war scenario into practice,” an article published at the state-run Korean Central News Agency Wednesday read. “The provocateurs should be aware of the disastrous consequences to be entailed by the nuclear war to be recklessly ignited by the U.S. imperialists.” It also states that “the DPRK is fully ready to cope with the nuclear war scenario of the U.S. imperialists.”