North Korea just successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, one of its most audacious moves yet — and a vivid reminder that Pyongyang seems determined to test whether President Donald Trump is willing to turn his tough talk about the country's nuclear threat into action.
The Hwasong-14 flew for 37 minutes, according to U.S. Pacific Command, and traveled about 578 miles. It didn't go as far as it could because it was shot at a high trajectory, likely to ensure it didn't make another country believe it was being attacked. The projectile eventually landed in the sea between Japan and North Korea, but analysts believe it could have traveled as far as 4,200 miles if it had been fired with an actual intent to strike a target in case of conflict.
In response, the U.S. and South Korea held a military exercise within 10 miles of the demilitarized zone that separates North Korea from its neighbor. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for "global action" to counter North Korea, while China and Russia asked for a "double suspension" of the military exercise and North Korea's weapons program.
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Based on the global reaction, the missile test was clearly a big deal. That's because the caveats about North Korea — in this case, that it didn't have an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, that could hit the mainland United States — are steadily disappearing. "That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska," wrote David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
And, down the line, this test could be seen as a steppingstone to an even more threatening development. "Even if this is a 7,000-km-range missile, a 10,000-km-range missile that can hit New York isn't far off," Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told the New York Times.
What's still not clear is if North Korea has the ability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon so it could be placed on the tip of the missile, and, even if it can, if the missile could reach the U.S. and still detonate. However, Lewis told me in April that North Korea was only about five years away from being able to do that.
And that's what's important to keep in mind: No matter what Trump has said, or the pressure the U.S., China and others try to place on North Korea, Kim continues to test missiles that could harm America and its allies.
This was not the kind of projectile Americans are used to hearing about on July Fourth.