North Korea on Wednesday announced the test of a “new tactical guided weapon” with a “powerful warhead,” personally supervised by dictator Kim Jong-un. It was North Korea’s first weapons test since the second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) hyped the test as an event of “very weighty significance,” but it apparently was not significant enough to show up on any U.S. military monitoring systems. A defense official told CNBC on Wednesday night that the U.S. Strategic Command “did not detect a missile launch from North Korea.”
The term “tactical” sounds ominous, but it refers to short-range missiles of the type North Korea is not banned from developing under U.N. Security Council resolutions. A test of short-range weapons flying at low altitudes probably would not be detected from outside North Korea.
“The design indexes of the tactical guided weapon, whose advantages are appreciated for the peculiar mode of guiding flight and the load of a powerful warhead, were perfectly verified at the test-fire conducted in various modes of firing at different targets,” KCNA claimed.
Another North Korean state media organ, Rodong Sinmun, said Kim personally “supervised and guided” the test firing of this astounding new weapon system. Afterward, he saluted its designers for “another great work in increasing the country’s defense capabilities.”
Various experts concluded the North Koreans are trying to make the missile test look like a provocative act of defiance to increase pressure on the U.S. in future negotiations, but they apparently stopped short of actually defying anything.
“This is a volatile country that holds the entire world at risk but, at this point, it just seems like a bunch of propaganda and a way to remind the Trump administration why they were negotiating in the first place,” Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Senior Policy Director Alexandra Bell told CNBC.
The Washington Post quoted Harry Kazianis of the Center for the National Interest interpreting the “tactical guided weapon” test as a statement from Kim Jong-un to the Trump administration that “his military potential is growing by the day, and that his regime is becoming frustrated with Washington’s lack of flexibility in recent negotiations.”
“Sadly, we are only one ICBM test away from another crisis with Pyongyang, and these smaller tests only bring us closer to such a moment,” Kazianis predicted.
Conversely, Duyeon Kim of the Center for a New American Security thought the new missile test was primarily intended as “a domestic message to assure the North Korean people and military elite that summitry won’t affect their national defense and strength.”