The missile launch came amid the largest joint US-South Korean military drills in several years
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said his country has no choice but to show its force in order to "deter war" following its latest long-range missile test, which he claimed was a response to the ongoing "reckless" US-led war games in the region.
After personally overseeing a test of a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Thursday, Kim said the launch again proved the "operating systems of the nuclear strategic forces." According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency, the weapon traveled just over 1,000 kilometers and reached an altitude of 6,045km before plunging into the sea.
The leader "stressed the need to strike fear into the enemies, really deter war and reliably guarantee the peaceful life of our people and their struggle for socialist construction by irreversibly bolstering up the nuclear war deterrent," as cited by KCNA, adding that Washington and Seoul are showing "open hostility towards the DPRK" by staging "reckless" and "large-scale" military drills on the Korean Peninsula.
Thursday's ICBM launch marked North Korea's third major weapons test this week, and was carried out as the United States leads a massive round of exercises with the South. Dubbed 'Freedom Shield,' the drills kicked off on Monday and are set to continue into next week, with officials saying they are the largest joint drills held by the two allies in five years, involving both simulated and live-fire elements.
Pyongyang went on to denounce the exercises as "provocative and aggressive," having repeatedly stated that it views such military activity as preparation for an attack. It voiced hopes that the ICBM test would send "a stronger warning to the enemies intentionally escalating the tension in the Korean Peninsula," while Kim vowed to "react to nuclear weapons and frontal confrontation in kind."
The missile launch also came as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol prepared to travel to Japan for a meeting with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, where they planned to discuss a security partnership with Washington. The three-way pact is aimed at countering alleged "threats" from North Korea and China. Yoon ordered the South Korean military to continue the joint drills with the US, and said Pyongyang would be punished for its "reckless provocations."
The United States later "strongly" condemned the ICBM test, with National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson saying that while the launch posed no threat to the US or its allies, it "needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region."