North Korea confirms testing missile capable of striking Guam

Seoul, South KoreaNorth Korea said on Monday that it test-launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam, or the U.S. military base on the Japanese island of Okinawa. As Washington takes steps to demonstrate its support for its Asian partners, it was North Korea’s largest weapon launch since years.

Sunday’s rocket launch may be an indication of bigger threats from Pyongyang. The North is trying to press the Biden administration for sanctions relief and international recognition.

According to the North Korean regime, the missile soared to an altitude of more than 1,000 miles — almost five times as high as the International Space Station’s orbit, but came down steeply and landed just off North Korea’s own east coast.

As CBS News Asia correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reported, however, the missile tested — the Hwasong-12 — is capable of travelling over 1,800 miles, and that puts major U.S. military bases in Guam and on the Japanese island of Okinawa, in range.

North Korea's Latest Missile Launch
People watch news coverage of North Korea’s latest missile launch on monitors in Seoul Station, South Korea, January 31, 2022.

Jong-Hyun Kim/Anadolu Agency/Getty

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the purpose of the test was to verify the overall accuracy of the Hwasong-12. The KCNA released two photos that show the missile rising from a launcher, and soaring to space. Another shows North Korea’s surrounding areas and was taken from the space-based camera attached at the missile’s weapon head.

According to South Korean and Japanese assessments, the missile flew about 497 miles and reached a maximum altitude of 1,242 miles before landing between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

The reported flight details make it the most powerful missile North Korea has tested since 2017, when the country launched Hwasong-12 and longer-range missiles in a torrid run of weapons firings to acquire an ability to launch nuclear strikes on U.S. military bases in Northeast Asia and the Pacific and even the American homeland.

Guam contains U.S. military bases. These were used to send warplanes and other advanced weapons to the Korean Peninsula during times of tension. In August 2017, at the height of animosities with the then-Trump administration, North Korea threatened to make “an enveloping fire” near Gaum with Hwasong-12 missiles.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via


In 2017, North Korea also test-fired intercontinental ballistic missiles called Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 that experts say demonstrated their potential capacity to reach the mainland U.S. Some analysts say North Korea still needs to conduct additional ICBM test-flights to prove it has overcome the last remaining technological hurdles, such as protecting a warhead from the extreme heat and pressure of reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. In the past months, North Korea launched a wide range of weapon systems and threatened to end a 4-year-old moratorium on serious weapons testing such as nuclear blasts or ICBM launch launches. This was North Korea’s seventh missile launch in January. Other weapons that were tested include a sub-launched missile and a development hypersonic missile.

Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said the Hwasong-12 launch was seen as partially breaking North Korea’s weapons test moratorium. In April 2018, when North Korea suspended nuclear and ICBM tests ahead of now-dormant diplomacy with the Trump administration, Kim said North Korea didn’t need to test intermediate-range missiles any longer as well.

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Cheong said North Korea will likely test-launch its existing long-range missile if the United States spearheads fresh sanctions on it. Others suggested that North Korea might also conduct nuclear tests.

North Korea publicly pledged to increase its arsenal of nuclear weapons and ICBMs. They include a longer-range ICBM with precision strike capability, a solid-fuel ICBM that improves a weapon’s mobility, a multi-warhead missile, a spy satellite and a super-sized warhead.

U.S. and allies react

After Sunday’s launch, White House officials said they saw the latest missile test as part of an escalating series of provocations over the last several months that have become increasingly concerning.

According to an administration senior who spoke to reporters under anonymity, the Biden administration will respond to Sunday’s missile test with an unspecified action. This move is intended to show the North that it remains committed to security in the region.

According to the official, Sunday’s missile attack was seen by the administration as the latest of a string of provocations in an effort to gain sanctions relief. While the Biden administration called for Pyongyang’s return to negotiations, it made clear that it does not consider any of Donald Trump’s summits with Kim to be constructive.

Japanese and South Korean officials condemned Sunday’s rocket launch. This violated U.N. Security Council resolutions which prohibit North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program largely remains stalled since a second summit between Kim and Trump collapsed in early 2019 due to disputes over the sanctions. North Korea refused to resume talks, citing U.S. sanctions. hostility.

“Even if Washington had the bandwidth to pay more attention to the North Korean nuclear issue, Pyongyang would likely continue to refuse direct talks because of the pandemic, keep perfecting its weapons technology, and maintain its high price tag for talks,” said Duyeon Kim, an analyst at Washington’s Center for a New American Security.

Observers say North Korea could suspend weapons tests during the Beijing Winter Olympics because China is its most important ally and aid benefactor. They warn that North Korea may test larger weapons after the Olympics are over and when South Korean and American military exercises begin in the springtime.

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