N. Korea proves it has ability to strike Guam
North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile Tuesday showed that its threat to strike Guam was not a bluff, as the missile’s range was within the reach of the U.S. territory.
Although the direction of the missile was not southward toward Guam, the test-firing proved Pyongyang’s earlier threat for an “enveloping fire around Guam” is feasible.
The missile, which the South Korean authorities suspect to be a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), flew more than 2,700 kilometers at a maximum altitude of about 550 kilometers, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The range showed a missile fired from North Korea could reach Guam, about 3,000 kilometers away.
Earlier this month, Kim Rak-gyom, commander of North Korea’s Strategic Forces, said that the military was considering firing four Hwasong-12 IRBM missiles toward Guam simultaneously.
Tuesday’s missile was launched eastward over Japan, but both the government and the political pundits presume the test was not aimed at showing a possible attack on Japan but its capacity to hit Guam.
“The missile did not fly toward the direction (Guam), but it was significant in terms of it being a test of enveloping firing around Guam, which North Korea had declared,” a senior Cheong Wa Dae official said on condition of anonymity.
“We are seriously watching the situation because the missile flew over the territorial waters of Japan and the international community will react sensitively.”
The JCS also said it believes the latest test was aimed at showing Pyongyang’s capacity to strike the U.S. base on Guam to which reinforcements are dispatched in case of a war on the Korean Peninsula.
“The North mentioned so-called enveloping firing around Guam and carried out the ballistic missile test with a range possible to reach it,” the JCS said in a press release.
“This is in serious defiance of the South Korean military and the South Korea-U.S. alliance, so we condemn it strongly.”
Analysts said the IRBM test was also a protest against increasing sanctions by the international community, especially the U.S. which imposed a set of sanctions against 16 entities and individuals, mostly Chinese and Russian, last week for financing Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction.
“North Korea may have been unable to strike Guam directly as it declared, because it would mean a direct attack on the U.S., so the North seems to have chosen a provocation that is similar to the Guam attack (in terms of range),” Koh Yoo-hwan, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University, said.
On Aug. 9, Pyongyang mentioned enveloping strikes around Guam, which was countered by U.S. President Donald Trump’s remark that the military was “locked and loaded.”
The heightened tension between Pyongyang and Washington along with exchanges of such barbs subsided for a while after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said Aug. 14 he would watch the “foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees” a little more rather than immediately striking Guam. Responding to it, Trump said on Twitter Aug. 16 that Kim made a “very wise and well reasoned decision.”
Expectations grew that such an atmosphere could open a possible path to de-escalating tension and even to dialogue on denuclearization. But the U.S. announced the sanctions Aug. 22 and North Korea had two missile tests each on Saturday and Tuesday. What is expected now are tougher sanctions against the North.