In a first, North Korea on Tuesday fired a mid-range ballistic missile designed to carry a nuclear payload that flew over Japan and splashed into the northern Pacific Ocean, officials said.
The aggressive missile launch – likely the longest ever from the North – over the territory of a close U.S. ally sends a clear message of defiance as Washington and Seoul conduct war games nearby. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile traveled around 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) and reached a maximum height of 550 kilometers (341 miles) as it traveled over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The distance and type of missile test seemed designed to show that North Korea can back up a threat to target the U.S. territory of Guam, if it chooses to do so, while also establishing a potentially dangerous precedent that could see future missiles flying over Japan.
Any new test worries Washington and its allies because it presumably puts the North a step closer toward its goal of an arsenal of nuclear missiles that can reliably target the United States. Tuesday’s test, however, looks especially aggressive to Washington, Seoul and Tokyo. The North has conducted launches at an unusually fast pace this year – 13 times, Seoul says – and some analysts believe Pyongyang could have viable long-range nuclear missiles before the end of President Donald Trump’s first term in early 2021.