North Korea’s ICBM Launch Worrying – Part I
Prof Rajaram Panda

On 18 November 2022, North Korea successfully test-fired a Hwasong-17 (or Hwasongpho-17) intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM), adding further to the already existing tensions and security threats in the Korean Peninsula. This launch was the largest nuclear-capable weapon in North Korea’s arsenal as a response to the perceived military threats from the US. The test marked the first successful launch of this missile, North Korea’s largest-ever ICBM. An earlier test attempt in March failed, despite North Korea’s claims to the contrary. The launch took place near Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport and appeared to be a real one.

The missile Hwasong-17 reportedly flew a distance of 1,000 kilometres and to an altitude of approximately 6,100 kilometres. It was reportedly the first successful test of North Korea's largest and most powerful missile, capable of striking anywhere in the US mainland if it is fired at a standard trajectory. The launch was the latest in a series of alarming activities related to its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes that North Korea conducted in 2022.

The launch evoked condemnation from many countries which want North Korea’s nuclear issue to be resolved soon. The UN Security Council met on 21 November to discuss but regrettably failed to reach an agreement on a unified response. In lieu of a UNSC consensus, 14 nations issued a statement condemning the launch. The US ambassador to the UN took aim at what she called “blatant obstructionism” from China and Russia as the Council failed to agree to joint statement of condemnation.[1]

India’s Position

What was India’s position at the UN on North Korea’s ballistic missile launch? In the past, India has merely expressed concern whenever North Korea launched any missiles. In a refreshing change, this time around, India joined the US and a dozen other nations to condemn North Korea’s ICBM launch as it voiced concern over the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies. While calling for full implementation of the relevant UNSC resolutions relating to North Korea, India’s UN Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj remarked that the launches constituted a violation of the resolutions of the UNSC relating to North Korea and have “adverse impact” on peace and security in the region, including on India.[2] Kamboj called for full implementation of the relevant UNSC resolutions relating to North Korea. She expressed the hope that the international community and the UNSC can be united on this front. India reiterated its continued support for denuclearisation towards peace and security in the Korean peninsula. The Council met for the second time in November on this issue.

US Response

The US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield delivered a joint statement on behalf of Albania, Australia, Ecuador, France, Ireland, India, Japan, Malta, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, the UAE, the UK, and the US on the missile launch. Exhorting that it ought to be a collective effort with collective interest, she pleaded for dialogue and diplomacy as the only means to resolve the issue in the Korean Peninsula. This was North Korea's eighth intercontinental ballistic missile launch in 2022. However, the latest launch represents a serious escalation and poses an unequivocal threat to international peace and security. The statement by the 14 nations urged North Korea to stop its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile advancement, especially those relating to missile technologies in North Korea, the region and beyond. The statement urged North Korea to abandon its unlawful weapons programmes “in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner”.

While observing that North Korea’s launches of ballistic missiles violate relevant UNSC resolutions and led to significant escalation of tensions, the UN Under-Secretary General called on North Korea to desist from taking further provocative actions and to fully comply with the international obligations under relevant UNSC resolutions. The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on 16 November that the Punggye-ri nuclear test site “remains prepared to support a nuclear test”. As per the available information, a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor has been operating at this test site. The issue is so serious that the UNSC met for the 10th time alone in 2022 to discuss North Korea but North Korea seems to be undeterred. Diplomacy became a casualty to some extent because of the Covid-19 pandemic and it is therefore necessary that diplomatic efforts are invigorated and communication channels be enhanced so that the risk of miscalculation is considerably brought under control. The immediate need is to de-escalate and reduce tensions.

North Korea’s Response to the UN Statement

Not surprisingly, North Korea’s response was harsh. Kim Jong-un’s powerful sister Kim Yo Jong likened the US to a “scared barking dog” and pledged “deadlier” security crisis if the US does not stop “obsessing” over North Korea’s activities.[3] Kim Jo Jong’s warning came hours after US Ambassador told the emergency meeting of the UNSC that the US will circulate a proposed presidential statement condemning North Korea’s banned missile launches and other destabilising activities. She lambasted the US for issuing a “disgusting joint statement together with rabbles as Britain, France, Australia, Japan and South Korea”. She termed the US-led statement as a wanton violation of North Korea’s sovereignty and grave political provocations. India which too condemned and was a signatory to the US-led joint statement was not mentioned by Kim.[4]

Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the Security Council, opposed any new pressure and sanctions on North Korea. In May, these two countries vetoed a US-led attempt to toughen sanctions on North Korea over its earlier missile tests, which are prohibited by the UNSC resolutions. Such stances by China and Russia have only emboldened North Korea as it claims its testing activities are legitimate exercises of its right to self-defence in response to regular military drills between the US and South Korea which it views as an invasion rehearsal. The US and South Korea claim such exercises are defensive in nature.

Claiming the UN body playing double standards and turning a blind eye to the US-South Korean military drills and arms build-ups targeting North Korea, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui called UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “a puppet of the United States”.

North Korea is a secretive nation and information leaked to the outside world is selective and difficult to verify. Based on North Korea’s recent activities, it is being speculated that a nuclear test, first in five years, is likely soon. Though some analysts are confident to say that North Korea has already nuclear-armed missiles that can strike both the US mainland and its allies Japan and South Korea, others say that North Korea is still years away from possessing such missiles. Irrespective of how one sees if the cup is half full or half empty, the risks are real and therefore preventive mechanism needs to be in place.

Showcasing Kim Jong-un’s Daughter

The world is now accustomed to living with a nuclear-armed North Korea. The launch of the ICBM launch on 18 November was worrying nevertheless. But the massive missile arguably attracted less attention than an unusual presence at the launch site, of a small girl in a white coat holding hands of the dictator. North Korean experts Andrei Lankov’s remarks of Kim as a dictator had another face - that of a feminist, at least compared to his father and grandfather.[5]

Official media identified the girl who looked 10 or 11-years-old, as Kim Jong-un’s daughter whom the North Korean leader was introducing publicly for the first time to emphasise justification for the BMD development. For the first time Kim took his daughter, presumably his second child, (he is believed to have three) to watch a long-range nuclear missile launch on 18 November.[6] By doing this, Kim was proving a point that possession of nuclear weapons is necessary to protect the children from the US attack. Some experts speculate that introducing the young daughter was connected with Kim’s succession plan or could be also a new propaganda strategy.

North Korea’s Rodong Sinbum observed that the nuclear missiles in North Korea’s possession are for the protection of the future generation of the Korean people. The paper argued that the possession of nuclear arsenal shall prevent a repeat of the children going hungry and fall victims of enemy bombardments. It may be recalled that in September 2022 when Kim unveiled the country’s new nuclear doctrine, he had said that possession of nuclear weapons shall guarantee the security of the future generations and therefore their pursuit is worthwhile despite the costs impeding economic development for the current generation.[7] Strangely, Kim had asserted in early 2018 in his comments made to the former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang that possession of nuclear weapons is not good for the children of North Korea. Kim had committed to the “denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” at an April 2018 inter-Korean summit and agreed to work with the US towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Such promise was conditional that the US military would withdraw from South Korea and the region.

When the denuclearisation talks broke down in 2019, Kim returned to his pre-diplomacy stance that possession of nuclear weapons are necessary to deter aggression from the US as protecting the country’s sovereignty was paramount. Then latest Hwasong-17 ICBM launch was justified from this perspective.

Former North Korean diplomat Tae Yong-ho who defected from London and now a conservative lawmaker in South Korea’s National Assembly thinks that by showcasing his daughter Kim Jong-un is securing that North Korea will be a nuclear state from generation to generation. Others feel that Kim has already chosen his daughter to be his successor and by showing her publicly he wanted to project security and stability on the leadership front. By this, he meant to say that the world must give up its dream to denuclearise North Korea.

[1]Shreyas Reddy, “14 countries condemn North Korean ICBM launch amid UN Security Council inaction”, 22 November 2022, https://www.nknews.org/2022/11/14-countries-condemn-north-korean-icbm-launch-amid-un-security-council-inaction/
[2]“India condemns recent intercontinental ballistic missile launch by North Korea”, 22 November 2022, https://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2022/nov/22/india-condemns-recent-intercontinental-ballistic-missile-launch-by-north-korea-2520906.html
[3]Jeongmin Kim and Shreyas Reddy, “Kim Yo Jong likens US to ‘scared dog’ for pushing criticism of ICBM test at UN”, 22 November 2022, https://www.nknews.org/2022/11/kim-yo-jong-likens-us-to-scared-dog-for-pushing-criticism-of-icbm-test-at-un/
[4]“Kim's sister warns US of 'a more fatal security crisis'”, 22 November 2022, https://www.theweek.in/wire-updates/international/2022/11/22/fgn52-nkorea-kim-sister-us.html
[5]Andrei Lankov, “How North Korea presents the possibility of a future female leader”, 23 November 2022, https://www.nknews.org/2022/11/how-north-korea-presents-the-possibility-of-a-future-female-leader/
[6]Colin Zwirko, “Nukes protect kids, North Korea says after introducing Kim Jong Un’s daughter”, 21 November 2022,
[7]See Rajaram Panda, “No bargaining over our nuclear weapons”, 12 September 2022, https://m.rediff.com/news/column/dr-rajaram-panda-what-north-koreas-new-nuclear-doctrine-means-for-the-world/20220912.htm

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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