Kim Jong Un personally oversaw Thursday’s launch of North Korea’s longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile as Pyongyang warned that its nuclear forces were “fully ready to thoroughly check and contain any dangerous military attempts of the US imperialists”.

Described by analysts as North Korea’s “monster missile”, the Hwasong-17 has an estimated ranged of more than 15,000km and was first revealed to the world at a night-time parade in Pyongyang in October 2020. It is thought to be the largest road-mobile liquid propellant ICBM in the world.

South Korea said the ICBM reached an altitude of more than 6,000km — the highest a North Korean missile has ever flown — and travelled 1,080km for about 71 minutes from its launch site near Pyongyang.

It landed in the Sea of Japan within the Japanese exclusive economic zone, 170km west of the northern prefecture of Aomori, according to the Japanese coastguard. The sea is known in Korea as the East Sea.

Ankit Panda, a nuclear weapons expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that the Hwasong-17 test demonstrated that the nuclear threat posed by North Korea to the US and its allies was growing “more complex and dangerous”.

“This missile is large enough to one day accommodate multiple warheads bound for US-based targets,” said Panda. “That complicates the arithmetic for US homeland missile defence and increases the ability for North Korea to inflict damage against the US homeland should deterrence fail.”

North Korea state media outlet KCNA provided a breathless account of the launch on Friday.

“The dazzling light of fire heated the ground like a mass of flames along with a loud explosion shaking the earth and sky and a tremendous missile charged with the irresistible force of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was launched to the outer space from the ground,” it wrote.

According to KCNA, the North Korean dictator said: “The new strategic weapon of the DPRK will clearly show the might of our strategic force to the whole world once again. This will be an occasion of confirming the modernity of our strategic force and confidence in the security of the state.”

State media also released photos of a leather-clad Kim observing the launch from a customised observation bus and celebrating with his officials.

The launch marks the end of a self-imposed moratorium on long-range ballistic missile tests that dates back to 2018, when Kim was engaged in intense summit diplomacy with then US president Donald Trump.

Panda said that North Korea would probably conduct more ballistic missile and nuclear tests as it made steady progress in developing its arsenal despite a tough international sanctions regime and the strong opposition of the US, South Korea and Japan.

“Sanctions irk and inconvenience North Korea, but they’ll do little to dissuade Kim from seeking an evermore sophisticated and robust nuclear deterrent,” said Panda.

“We’ll see rote reactions from Washington and allies — sanctions, consultations, statements of condemnation and military exercises — but the broader situation will remain unchanged.”



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