North Korea Back at Long-Range Testing: What does the Successful Test Firing of Hwasong-17 Means for the World?

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North Korea has swayed the world by claiming that it has finally and successfully tested its biggest intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, called Hwasong-17. However, this does not answer the most basic question in this scenario. What exactly is an ICBM? An ICBM or an intercontinental ballistic missile is a long-range missile, with the minimum range being 5,500 kilometres. The primary usage of an ICBM is the delivery of nuclear weapons. Moreover, considering the country’s history, such activity can mean multiple things to the world, but none of them is good. 

Test-firing of Hwasong-17
Image courtesy- of Reuters

First revealed in a parade in 2020, the Hwasong-17’s design and size took even the most seasoned analysts by surprise. Furthermore, for North Korea, this is a remarkable step in history, as this is the first ICBM tested since 2017. The successful testing has also been considered a significant milestone in the nuclear arsenal that North Korea possesses. South Korea also claims that the news is a hoax and the Hwasong-17 has not been test-fired yet. Nevertheless, the possibility of successful testing of the ICBM is still something that might impact the globe largely. 

Features of the Hwasong-17

Militaries of both Japan and South Korea tracked the missile test-firing. The Japanese personnel reported that it flew to an altitude of about 6,000 km and travelled a distance of 1090 km. After that, it fell between the North Korean and Japanese waters after being in the air for about 67 minutes. The surprising element here is that the altitude surpasses the previous known altitudes of the Hwansong-15 (altitude 4500km and distance 1000 km) and Hwansong-13 (altitude 3000 km and distance 900 km).

The missile is almost 25 meters long. It is not only the biggest missile in the North Korean collection but also the world’s biggest road-mobile ballistic missile system. The published photos display the missile leaving a flare of orange lights and Kim Jong Un smiling and celebrating this big win for North Korea.  

What this means for the world 

Considering that the Hwansong-17 has been successfully test-fired, it might lead to many potential challenges for the world, especially for the United States. The new addition to the nuclear warheads possessed by North Korea reflects its firm determination to be on a solid pedestal on an international platform.

The success in the development of the new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, the aggregate of the latest defence science and technology, is a great demonstration of the might of our self-reliant defence industry which has increased and developed with our driving force.”

Kim Jong Un

United State’s reaction to North Korea

The USA has highly condemned the action. Post the test-firing United States of America imposed new sanctions on North Korea. The US Secretary of State also spoke with his counterpart in South Korea about these recent developments. Testing the Hwansong-17 has been seen as a clear cut violation of various United Nations Security Council resolutions. This is because combining the history of North Korea with the successful test launch would ultimately result in North Korea posing multiple threats to the USA with its ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the North Korean territory
in 2019

Long before the launch was successful, there were speculations that North Korea was planning to test ballistics that could directly threaten the US mainland. North Korea had performed two reconnaissance satellites on 27th February and 5th March, respectively. This was a preparation by the country to test ballistics by disguising them as space launches. However, the South Korean military reported the first failure of the test on 16th March. This confirmed that North Korea was working on testing the ICBM. North Korea has also tested a long-range cruise missile and an intermediate-range missile continuing the nuclear test streak. Both are capable of reaching Guam, a US military hub in the Pacific, respectively.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with the Hwasong-17 ICBM
Image courtesy- of Reuters

South Korea’s reaction

The South Korean President-elect condemned the test launch. He deemed that this action may be a potential provocation against the South. Additionally, the current President and government have not directly commented on such provocation. There are criticisms against such an aloof response. This is sending a message that the current government is not acknowledging the potential threat that this accomplishment of North Korea would pose in case of future border disputes. 

Sanctions imposed on North Korea

The United States of America is calling for tougher international sanctions on North Korea post the test-firing of the ICBM. The missile obviously is a direct threat to the United States. However, the already imposed sanctions in the past have crippled the country’s economy. So, in such a scenario, what more to do has not been contemplated. Moreover, there is no guarantee that Russia and China will not veto a resolution regarding imposing heavier sanctions on their neighbour. This is also another challenge that the world faces regarding North Korea. The permanent five members have the veto power. This makes the authority and credibility of the UNSC very unpredictable.  

North Korea’s missile ranges before the testing of Hwasong-17
Image courtesy- DW

The Russian Deputy Ambassador Anna Evstigneeva said that imposing more sanctions on North Korea would only worsen their economic crisis. Also, the Chinese Ambassador pleaded that the UNSC consider the security aspects of North Korea and allow the country to justify their nuclear testing. Nonetheless, irrespective of all these challenges, no particular sanction has been levied as of now. The action to be taken against the North for the testing of the Hwansong-17 is a discussion of the future. 

Considering the present situation, the existing sanctions have already created many economic problems for North Korea. Implementation of more sanctions will likely worsen the situation.”

The U.S. has already imposed fresh sanctions on five entities in Russia and North Korea for transferring sensitive items for the missile program that North Korea has been organising and building. 

Conclusion

When looked at from an international perspective, the situation is very dicey. Moreover, believing North Korea’s aim to test the Hwansong-17 was for security purposes would be completely amateur. The country holds power to use the weapons against the United States, owing to their long-term feud. If such a situation arises, it will turn out to be detrimental to the entire world.

Permanent members of UNSC
Image courtesy- NATO

The world turns toward the UNSC for guidance in such circumstances. However, the structure of the UNSC allows the permanent members to have much power over the decisions made by the UNSC. This is giving rise to yet another challenge: the support being provided to North Korea by its neighbours, Russia and China. 

Therefore, it is the need of the hour to take any action. Prevention is better than cure, and waiting for North Korea to keep advancing their nuclear weaponry will do no good to the world. 

You may also like to read THE EVOLUTION OF TECHNOLOGY: DEFENCE AND SECURITY IN THE MODERN AGE!

About the author

NIKITA CHAUHAN

Nikita has a penchant for reading and writing, and naturally, she is a research enthusiast. Being a law student specialising in International Trade and Investment Law, her interest areas include Intellectual Property Law, Cyber Law, and International Law. She has written various articles and research papers about global issues related to IPRs and Cyber laws to acknowledge these issues, address potential solutions, and spread awareness.

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