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Possible North Korean Ballistic Missile Launch Could Test Allies’ New Alert System, Radio Free Asia Reports

North Korea is expected to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads to the United States mainland within this month. This will test the newly established real-time missile warning data sharing system among the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. 

“There is a possibility of North Korea launching an ICBM in December,” South Korea’s first deputy director of the National Security Office, Kim Tae-hyo, stated in Washington Thursday. Kim did not provide details on how Seoul reached that conclusion or confirm whether the assessment was shared with authorities in the U.S. 

Kim, who is visiting the U.S. capital for the second bilateral Nuclear Consultation Group (NCG) meeting, told reporters that any forms of North Korea’s ballistic missiles could pose a practical “nuclear threat” against both the U.S. and South Korea. “Preventing a nuclear attack by North Korea in advance, and firmly countering it in its initial stages in case of a miscalculation by North Korea, is the core principle of extended deterrence.” 

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul who has advised the South Korean government assessed that Kim’s remarks appear to focus on highlighting the illegitimacy of North Korea’s missile provocations while rationalizing Seoul’s move to strengthen its extended deterrence capability with the U.S. 

“Given the recent history of missile provocations by North Korea, the continuous testing of high-output engines, and the impending need for defense achievements by year’s end, Kim’s statements are considered to be convincing,” Yang said.

Kim’s assessment comes as the Pentagon reaffirmed Thursday its joint plan with South Korea and Japan to launch a real-time warning data system for North Korean missiles by this month. Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder said that the system is expected to be operational before the year’s end.

The establishment of the system was agreed upon during the summit in Phnom Penh in November last year. At the U.S.-South Korea-Japan trilateral Camp David summit in August, the leaders of the three nations pledged to activate the system by the end of this year.

A person familiar with the matter in Seoul, who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, told RFA that the activation is likely to take place within next week. The person did not elaborate further. Should North Korea carry out an ICBM test launch this month, it would mark the first activation of this system. 

North Korea has strongly protested against this measure that could potentially deter its missile capabilities. Its official Rodong Sinmun, said Thursday that the information sharing system was a “dangerously reckless military act,” alleging that it aims to escalate the regional situation into a more dangerous phase of confrontation. Additionally, the paper accused the system of harboring a “sinister intention” to provoke a war in the Korean peninsula. 

North Korea has been pursuing the capability to deliver nuclear warheads to the U.S. mainland, a capability it views as vital for its deterrence and, consequently, its regime security. Should it achieve this capability, the current negotiations with North Korea on denuclearization may shift towards discussions on disarmament – aligning with Pyongyang’s long-term goal of being recognized as a nuclear state.

North Korea most recently tested its ICBM in July, which it claimed as a new solid-fuel ICBM, the Hwasong-18. The launch was the second of its kind, following the first test in April. In March, North Korea also tested the Hwasong-17, and in February, the Hwasong-15 – both ICBMs, allegedly capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. North Korea, however, has not yet demonstrated its re-entry technology, nor has it conducted a real-distance test of its ICBMs. 

The technological progression, however, may have been improved with Pyongyang receiving technological assistance from Moscow, followed by a successful testing of its military reconnaissance satellite last month. Transferring relevant technology may pose a threat to the international community as rocket technologies can be used for both launching satellites and missiles. For that reason, the U.N. bans North Korea from launching a ballistic rocket, even if it claims to be a satellite launch. 

“If North Korea’s strategic intent also involves exerting political pressure on the U.S. mainland ahead of the U.S. presidential election next year, the possibility of launching an ICBM before a medium-range missile cannot be completely ruled out,” said Yang fromthe University of North Korean Studies. 

Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

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