North Korea tested its new Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday, Nov. 18, sending the massive two-stage rocket thousands of miles into space in a flight demonstrating the ability to hit most of North America with nuclear weapons.
State media reported that Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s hereditary dictator, visited the test site prior to the launch. Notably, footage from the event also showed Kim’s daughter accompanying him at the site; the first time one of the 38-year-old leader’s children has been featured in the totalitarian nation’s state media.
Kim said threats from the United States and its allies pursing a hostile policy prompted his country to “substantially accelerate the bolstering of its overwhelming nuclear deterrence.”
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Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that the Hwasong, which means “Mars” in Korean, was “the strongest strategic weapon in the world” and that its launch was part of the North’s “top-priority defense-building strategy” aimed at establishing “the most powerful and absolute nuclear deterrence.”
The missile was launched from a transporter erector launcher (TEL) — a large truck designed to carry and launch ballistic missiles — and flew nearly 1,000 km (621 miles) for about 69 minutes and reached a maximum altitude of 6,041 km, KCNA said. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the weapon could travel as far as 15,000 km (9,320 miles), enough to reach the continental United States.
South Korea’s military said its F-35A fighters and U.S. F-16 jets escorted American B-1B bombers as they conducted joint drills on Saturday, designed to improve their ability to quickly deploy U.S. extended deterrence assets.
On Nov. 13, the United States, South Korea and Japan had held a summit during which the leaders of the three countries criticized Pyongyang’s ongoing weapons tests and pledged greater security cooperation.
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Kim said the test confirmed “another reliable and maximum capacity to contain any nuclear threat” at a time when he needed to warn Washington and its allies that military moves against Pyongyang would lead to their “self-destruction.”
The Hwasong-17, unveiled in October 2020 and first tested last March, is the latest model of North Korea’s ICBMs and other ballistic missiles, which complement its nuclear weapons program. North Korea has tested six nuclear bombs since 2006, increasing its stockpile and delivery vehicles despite crushing international sanctions.
According to Reuters, the presence of Kim’s daughter at the test site was a “surprising addition to the launch,” as she had never been mentioned before in official media reports.
The girl was photographed with her father wearing a puffy white coat. KNCA did not mention her by name but it has been previously reported that she is Kim Ju-ae and one of several children Kim Jong Un has had with his wife Ri Sol-ju.
North Korea was founded after World War II in the 1940s under Soviet-backed communist leader Kim Il Sung, who ruled for decades until his death in 1994. He was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Il, who led the isolated totalitarian state until 2011 when he died of heart attack.
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The fact that North Korea is run as an effective monarchy, as well as Pyongyang’s habit of obscuring details about its leadership, have made members of the Kim family a subject of interest as observers try to guess the dynamics of political power and favor in the “hermit kingdom.”
For example, Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong is considered to wield considerable power in the regime, having represented Pyongyang at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea and often making foreign policy statements.
According to Reuters, the “unexpected appearance [of Kim’s daughter] raises the prospect that leadership of the totalitarian state could pass to a fourth generation of Kims, and suggests that nuclear weapons will be part of that inheritance, analysts said.”
Neither North Korea’s media nor government have made any comment about the significance of Kim bringing his daughter to the launch site and taking photos with her. Ri Sol-ju also attended the launch.
Reuters contributed to this report.