S. Korea Says There Was Something Fishy About N. Korea Launch

Officials suspect Pyongyang fired older model of ICBM for propaganda win
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 31, 2022 10:55 AM CDT
Was North Korea's New ICBM Test Faked? Not Entirely
In this photo distributed by the North Korean government, Kim Jong Un walks around what Pyongyang says was a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile.   (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The intercontinental ballistic missile North Korea launched last week flew higher and farther than any of its predecessors, officials say—but not all was as it seemed, according to South Korea's defense ministry. Ministry officials told lawmakers that evidence strongly suggests North Korea fired an older Hwasong-15 missile, which was successfully tested in 2017, the New York Times reports. Officials said video released by Pyongyang that supposedly showed Kim Jong Un guiding the launch was apparently taken on a different day. They noted that the launch day was overcast, but official photos showed the North Korean leader inspecting a Hwasong-17 missile on a sunny day.

As with the 2017 launch, the trajectory of the launch last week showed that the missile could potentially hit targets anywhere in the mainland US. North Korean media has quoted Kim as saying the missile would make the world aware of North Korea's military capabilities, but South Korean officials said the most recent launch "had more to do with domestic considerations," with the dictator seeking a propaganda victory after a failed launch earlier this month, which caused an explosion in the sky visibile to Pyongyang residents. The regime "needed to send a message of success and do so quickly in order to prevent rumors from spreading and to ensure regime stability," ministry officials said in their report to lawmakers.

But if it was a Hwasong-15 instead of the newer, larger Hwasong-17, the improved height and distance seen last week still represents a technological advance that Western nations should be worried about, Kim Dong-yup, an expert on North Korea's military, tells the Times. American officials tell CNN that activity at a test site suggests North Korea is also preparing for its first underground nuclear test since 2017. Duyeon Kim at the Center for a New American Security tells the Guardian that another nuclear test is probably inevitable, with Pyongyang feeling it's "safe to test more provocative weapons without drawing penalties while Washington and the world are preoccupied with Ukraine." (Read more North Korea stories.)

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