Over the past week, North Korea has conducted multiple tests of new long-range cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The tests represent a concerning advancement of North Korea’s weapons capabilities and a ratcheting up of tensions on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea Claims Successful Test of New Strategic Cruise Missile
On January 29, North Korea announced that it had test-launched a new type of strategic cruise missile called the Hwasal-2 the day before. According to state media reports, the test was observed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un .
Details on the Hwasal-2 missile’s capabilities are limited, but analysts believe it could have a range over 900 miles, enabling it to reach all of Japan and U.S. military bases there . North Korea said the purpose of the tests was to “sharpen the attack capability” of its nuclear combat forces .
The launch follows multiple other North Korean weapons tests this year, including three short-range ballistic missile launches. It also comes ahead of a planned joint military exercise between the U.S. and South Korea in February .
|Tested in 2023
North Korea Launches Cruise Missiles from Submarines
On January 28, North Korea announced it had conducted tests of submarine-launched cruise missiles the day prior. State media reported that Kim Jong Un directly oversaw the tests .
Details on the missiles’ specifications and performance were limited. Analysts believe they could have sufficient range to hit targets in South Korea and Japan .
The use of hard-to-detect submarines to launch missiles poses a new threat to regional security. It also signals an advance in North Korea’s ambition to develop a credible sea-based nuclear deterrent .
Third Cruise Missile Test in a Week Detected
On January 30, South Korea’s military reported detecting the launch of additional cruise missiles by North Korea into the Yellow Sea .
The missile tests took place near the port city of Nampo on North Korea’s west coast. In total, South Korea estimates that North Korea fired eight cruise missiles during the January 30 tests .
|Hwasal-2 strategic cruise
The repeated launches demonstrate North Korea’s determination to advance, display, and normalize its emerging cruise missile capabilities alongside its better-known ballistic missiles .
They also serve as a reminder that Pyongyang has been busy developing and testing a wide range of weapon systems designed to overwhelm enemy defenses.
Regional Response and Analysis
South Korea convened a National Security Council meeting after detecting the cruise missiles to discuss a response. Meanwhile Japan lodged a formal protest with North Korea over the repeated missile tests .
Analysts note that the cruise missile tests do not violate United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea, which focus specifically on banning ballistic missile and nuclear weapons development . As a result, options for direct punishment or censure of Pyongyang are limited.
However, North Korea’s advancement of its cruise missile technology could increase pressure on the U.S. and allies to expand the scope of UN resolutions or unilateral sanctions . It also poses a policy dilemma on whether attempting diplomacy with Kim still warrants the risks.
Most analysts assess that North Korea’s motives are primarily diplomatic rather than overtly hostile. The tests aim to demonstrate North Korea’s growing arsenal to obtain sanctions relief and other concessions in any future negotiations .
However, military officials warn there is always potential for miscalculation that could lead to unintended escalation or conflict . As a result, the repeated North Korean provocations will likely prompt intensified allied readiness training and surveillance.
Outlook Going Forward
North Korea is likely to conduct additional weapons tests in the near future as Kim Jong Un continues his drive to expand strategic capabilities . Meanwhile, South Korea and the United States will face growing urgency to curb both the pace of North Korean weapons advancement and future missile deployments.
Absent a dramatic diplomatic breakthrough, the cycle of North Korean provocations and allied countermeasures seems poised to intensify further in 2024. Ongoing efforts by Seoul and Washington to restrain Pyongyang will likely need to expand to encompass cruise missiles and other new capabilities.
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