On Saturday, during his just-concluded Asian trip, President Joe Biden told South Korean leaders he was stepping up deterrence against North Korea.
Four days later, as Biden returned to the U.S., North Korea launched what experts say is an intercontinental ballistic missile with a potential range that would cover much of the United States, according to The New York Times.
The ICBM tested was accompanied by two other missile tests that are not thought to involve ICBMs, according to CNN. One was a missile that apparently disintegrated after reaching a height of 12 miles and the other was a short-range ballistic missile that flew about 472 miles and climbed to an altitude of 37 miles, CNN reported.
The ICBM went 223 miles and climbed to 335 miles, according to CNN.
In response, U.S. and South Korean forces conducted missile tests to indicate both nations’ willingness to respond to North Korea with force.
Kim Tae-hyo, South Korea’s deputy national security adviser, said the missile being tested was the Hwasong-17 missile, with a potential range of the full U.S. mainland, according to ABC.
He said the test appeared to be focused on the missile’s propellant and stage separations.
The test comes as the Pyongyang government builds up its nuclear missile capabilities.
“North Korea continues to improve, expand and diversify its conventional and nuclear missile capabilities, posing an increasing risk to the U.S. homeland and U.S. forces, allies, and partners in the region,” John Plumb, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for space policy, said in an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, according to the Times.
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“Most of North Korea’s ballistic missiles have an assessed capability to carry nuclear payloads,” he said.
Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University in South Korea, said the launches were not just a military exercise but “a political message. They’re saying they feel bad” about Biden’s recent summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, according to ABC.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pursued stepped-up missile tests throughout this year, prompting Sung-Yoon Lee, assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, to tell the Toky-based news magazine Nikkei Asia earlier this year that, “The U.S. will find it impossible to turn its back on Kim. Hence, NK will negotiate from a position of strength.”
The Biden administration has not met with North Korea yet, a significant turnaround from former President Donald Trump’s efforts to use personal diplomacy as a way to stop North Korea’s nuclear arms program.
A Biden administration official told CNN that the lack of meetings was “not been for lack of trying.” In that context, the North Korean missile launch can be clearly interpreted as an insult to the Biden administration.
Biden on Sunday said he was “not concerned” about a weapons test that had been cited as a possibility, according to The Washington Post.
“We are prepared for anything North Korea does. We’ve thought through how we would respond to whatever they do,” he said, according to the Post.
South Korea has said it believes the North is testing a nuclear weapon detonation device, a likely first step to a nuclear test.