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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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North Korea’s missile test has left U.S. baffled and spooked

North Korea to "change course.”

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SEOUL, South Korea - On Tuesday, after launching what it called a new type of missile - called the Hwasong-15, North Korea sent shivers of fear across the world. 

North Korea’s missile launch on Tuesday came after a period, which was its second-longest such pause in its nuclear weapons acceleration program, that lasted 73-days.

Earlier in the day, the Japanese government said that it was on alert after radio signals and radar activity had been detected at a North Korean missile base.

The reclusive nation’s  Hwasong-15 missile was launched at 3.17am local time from a site to the north of Pyongyang.

The missile flew for 53 minutes before falling into the Sea of Japan, within Japan's exclusive economic zone.

North Korea released a statement on its state media, which said that the missile was carrying a "super-large heavy warhead" that can reach targets at a distance of more than 8,000 miles, putting Britain and anywhere in the continental United States well within range of its leader, Kim Jong Un.

On Wednesday, as several nations condemned the launch, analysts continued to draw out charts, understanding the terrifying impact of the missile launch.

South Korea's military issued a statement saying that Kim Jong Un's latest ballistic missile flew ten times higher than the International Space Station and twice as high as any satellite in low-earth orbit.

Analysts have however argued that based on the current evidence, it is hard to prove or debunk the North's claim that it can now hit faraway American targets such as New York or Washington, D.C.

So far, since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January, the North Koreans have test-fired missiles 18 times.

Tuesday's launch was however, the first in more than two months.

Western officials stated that it appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, which flew further than any other demonstrated by the North.

They noted that the missile was fired on a "lofted" trajectory, meaning it was aimed at a steep angle and travelled very high but landed relatively close to its launch site.

According to South Korea, the missile reached an altitude of around 2,800 miles above the Earth's surface and crashed down in the Sea of Japan around 600 miles away from where it was fired.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said, "It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they've taken.”

Reports pointed out that some experts, however, believe that if North Korea aimed the rocket at a lower angle, as it would in an attack scenario, this range could be stretched to some 8,100 miles — theoretically putting the entire East Coast in range.

John Nilsson-Wright, a senior research fellow at London's Chatham House think tank has said, "If we extrapolate this test we think it would give North Korea the capability to reach Washington, D.C."

Experts, however, pointed out that to build a weapon capable of hitting the U.S., North Korea would need not just a long-range rocket.

The country would also need to develop a reentry vehicle robust enough to protect the warhead from the intense heat produced by traveling through the Earth's atmosphere at speed. 

It would also need to miniaturize a nuclear weapon small and light enough to fit on the missile without reducing its range.

Nilsson-Wright pointed out, "We still don't know the ability of North Korea to put a warhead on a long-range missile and fire it with accuracy.”

North Korea has said that the missile tested on Tuesday was tipped with a "super-large heavy warhead" - however, analysts have disputed the face, saying there's no way to know for sure.

Tom Plant, director of the Proliferation and Nuclear Policy program at the Royal United Services Institute, another London-based think tank said, "We just don't know what was on the front end of this thing.”

Meanwhile, Michael Elleman, a ballistic missile analyst at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, "a viable ICBM capable of reaching the West Coast of the U.S. mainland is still a year away, though North Korea continues to progress."

Following the launch on Tuesday, South Korea responded by firing three missiles of its own, which were designed to show it could strike North Korea's launch sites.

South Korean Presidential spokesperson Park Soo Hyu described these counter-launches as "a show of force."

Further, the foreign ministry of China said it expressed "deep concern and opposition to launch activities."

Trump, commenting on the missile launch, vowed to "take care of it.”

The White House said it had briefed the president, adding, “It is a situation that we will handle."

Trump also spoke to the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe after the test and the two leaders agreed that China needed to play an increased role to tackle the crisis.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan's deputy chief cabinet secretary said that in a phone call the leaders "agreed to strengthen our deterrence capability against the North Korean threat.”

Abe reportedly described the launch as a "violent act" that "can never be tolerated,” and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in said the test was a "serious threat" to global peace.

Further, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Pyongyang to "desist taking any further destabilising steps."

The U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called on North Korea to "change course.”

Adding, “This is not the path to security and prosperity for the North Korean people. DPRK regime must change course.”

 

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