MOSCOW (Sputnik), Tommy Yang — Under the guidance of the country’s young leader Kim Jong Un, North Korea launched its latest ICBM, known as the Hwasong-15, at 2:48 a.m. local time Wednesday (17:48 GMT Tuesday), the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
No More Missile Tests
Although North Korea’s latest missile test, which came after more than two months of suspension, is widely viewed as a further provocation drawing condemnation from the United States, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia, Pyongyang’s proud proclamation of the successful completion of its ICBM program could also mean that it may not need to conduct additional missile tests, security experts told Sputnik.
The North Korean government said in a statement released by KCNA that the ICBM Hwasong-15 type weaponry system "is the most powerful ICBM, which meets the goal of the completion of the rocket weaponry system development set by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea."
"North Korea’s official statement said very clearly that this test completed the final step of its missile’s program. It symbolizes that the nation has completed its historic mission to become a nuclear power. This could be major progress and could also mean that it does not need to conduct more missile flight tests," Zhao Tong, a fellow in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, told Sputnik.
Zhao, a Beijing-based expert, believes that North Korea’s success in its ICBM program could also present a great opportunity to start negotiations with Pyongyang.
"If we have correctly interpreted North Korea’s statement, it means the nation is declaring that its missile testing program has been completed and it will not conduct large scale missile flight tests. This could become a major opportunity for change. This could be a great chance to start making contacts with North Korea," he said.
However, the nuclear expert warned that it is also possible for North Korea to advance its nuclear arms program in terms of conducting nuclear tests and developing submarines capable of firing nuclear missiles.
More Pressure in Near Future
Following North Korea’s latest missile test, US President Donald Trump moved away from his usual hawkish rhetoric such as vowing to respond with "fire and fury" in August. Instead, Trump only told reporters at the White House that he would "take care of it" and "it’s a situation that we will handle."
"The latest test proved North Korea’s nuclear capabilities had advanced further. If [the missile’s] warhead is heavy enough, without a doubt, it will pose a much bigger threat to US territories. The first response from the United States will definitely be harsh countermeasures. We will go through a period where countries try to step up pressure on North Korea," he said.
But the Beijing-based expert pointed out that North Korea had stressed the defensive nature of its nuclear arms program.
"North Korea has always been very clear about its strategic intention to develop nuclear weapons that could be used as a strategic deterrence against threats from the United States. Theoretically, this is not a provocative intention, because it shows a position of self-defense," Zhao said.
The Chinese expert acknowledged that the United States may not trust the words from the North Korean leadership.
"What the United States is worried about is that North Korea is not only pursuing self-defense capabilities, but is also striving to develop strategic nuclear weapons allowing it to blackmail both the United States and South Korea. If North Korea can prove that its nuclear program’s purpose is only for self-defense, it could help address such concerns from the United States," Zhao said.
Conditions for Negotiations
During his recent five-nation tour in Asia, Trump once again expressed his willingness to "sit down and talk to" Kim Jong Un during a speech in Seoul, South Korea. But the US President set a precondition before such talks can take place, which is that North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons before talks start.
"A temporary suspension of testing might be acceptable to North Korea if the United States made a similar suspension of military exercises in North Korea's neighborhood. This is what China and Russia have wanted, and it remains a realistic proposal," Stein Tonnesson, a research professor focusing on East Asian Peace research at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, told Sputnik.
However, after North Korea’s latest missile test, the Norwegian expert acknowledged that the negotiations "will not go forward right now."
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow in July, the foreign ministries of Russia and China released a joint statement laying out a roadmap for resolving the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, calling for both North Korea and the United States to halt provocative actions and create conditions for possible peace talks.