During his New Year speech, Kim Jong Un declared that North Korea had “entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM),” adding that it would provide “a powerful military guarantee for defending the destiny of the nation.” Like his father before him, the 33-year-old dictator evidently believes that a nuclear-armed ICBM safeguards him from the sort of Western-backed regime change that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi.
On Tuesday, Kim presided over the firing of an ICBM that soared at an altitude of 1,731 miles, for 580 miles, before crashing into the Sea of Japan. Experts posit that such a rocket, which Pyonyang calls a Hwasong-14, could potentially travel 4,100 miles, technical wrinkles not withstanding. That puts Alaska within striking range.
Afterward, North Korean state television boasted that the regime had, in an instant, become “a full-fledged nuclear power that possesses [a] powerful inter-continental ballistic rocket capable of hitting any part of the world.” North Korea’s official news agency KCNA quoted Kim as saying that the July 4 launch formed a “package of gifts” to the “Yankies” on their Independence Day. In a statement conceding that the launch was indeed of an ICBM, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned “a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region, and the world.”
According to IHS Jane’s analyst Karl Dewey, the launch has bought Kim time, giving decision-makers in Washington “reason to pause for thought” before deciding to strike the communist regime.