South Korean military officials have warned that they have evidence of North Korea preparing to debut a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) model in the twilight of President Barack Obama’s presidency. The communist government may test the new model, which officials have yet to identify, as a sort of “strategic message” to incoming president Donald Trump.
The South Korean news outlet Yonhap reported Wednesday that it had received word from South Korean officials that both Seoul and Washington had compiled evidence revealing that Pyongyang had constructed a new missile. “The two missiles are estimated to not exceed 15 meters in length, making them shorter than the North’s existing ICBMs, the 19-20 meter-long KN-08 and the 17-18 meter-long KN-14,” Yonhap reported. This would indicate that the missiles are a new, and potentially more successful, model.
Yonhap cites its unnamed officials as speculating that North Korea intended to make the existence of the new missiles known “to send a ‘strategic message’ to the incoming government of Donald Trump who takes office on Friday.”
On Thursday, following the Yonhap report, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) told reporters that they feared, based on the evidence collected, that Pyongyang was ready to test-fire its new missiles “at any time and from any location.”
“We remain vigilant as North Korea could fire the ICBM at any time and place determined by its leadership,” an unnamed official noted, adding, “There is no imminent sign of provocation.”
The South Korean military’s assessment echoes official statements from the North Korean foreign ministry claiming that dictator Kim Jong-un could order a test of the new ICBMs “anytime and anywhere,” statements made on Kim’s birthday, January 8.
Kim himself announced in his New Year’s address that his government was in “the final stage of preparation for the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile,” celebrating the North Korean military for its “do-or-die struggle in which all the people smashed to smithereens the enemy’s vicious schemes to isolate and suffocate our country.”
President-elect Trump responded directly to these claims at the time, posting on Twitter in response to Kim: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” Trump has previously stated that he was open to bilateral talks with Kim should he be open to concessions to the United States.
While North Korean diplomats defiantly react to Trump’s election by claiming, “we do not care,” both the attempts to promote a new ICBM test and subsequent propaganda in the country’s state publications belie that claim. In a column Thursday, responding to the international outcry following the revelation of North Korea possessing new missiles, North Korea’s state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun warned the United States to not protest the new missile launches.
“The projected test-fire of ICBM by the DPRK is its legitimate exercise of the right to self-defense to cope with the U.S. ever more undisguised nuclear war threat,” the newspaper article claimed. “This being a hard reality, the U.S. is groundlessly pulling up the DPRK over its just measures. This is just like a thief crying ‘stop thief!'”
North Korean media appeared to emphasize the failures of the Obama administration over a potential rivalry with Trump, however, publishing a scathing editorial against Secretary of State John Kerry. “The rubbish made by bete noire Kerry against the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK is nothing but a shriek made by the wretched one bound for ruin after sustaining only bitter defeat and shame in the stand-off with the DPRK, failing to realize the wild ambition for ‘bringing down’ the DPRK,” an article in the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), citing an unnamed government spokesman, said.
“Whoever provokes even a little the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK, which represents our destiny, will be made to pay a very high price beyond imagination,” the article concluded.