By Samantha Stevenson
Two US defense officials informed CNN that North Korea fired a missile on Wednesday, March 22, followed by a ballistic missile engine test on Friday, March 24. The missile tested on Wednesday failed “within seconds of launch.”
The engine test on Friday was the third of its kind in the past few weeks. CNN reports that March 6 saw North Korea firing four intermediate-range missiles, which fell into Japanese waters.
Special intelligence indicators grew suspicious of a missile test after extensive activity at the Punggye-ri test site had ceased, which has been a similar pattern of activity, or lack thereof, before previous tests. This activity ranged from vehicles to personnel and equipment to two tunnel entrances being dug out, all of which was halted prior to the launch.
An official told CNN that upon the initial assessment, it would appear that North Korea’s technology might be used in an intercontinental ballistic missile, which could allow North Korea to threaten the United States. However, it remained unclear if the engine would need some adjusting before being used in an intercontinental ballistic missile, as their development is extremely difficult.
These tests and the possibility of a rocket advanced enough to be used in an intercontinental ballistic missile come at a time when North Korea is expanding its nuclear arsenal.
According to Forex Live, there are two conditions that have caused the increase in North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. One reason is an increase in the production of plutonium at its Yongbyon nuclear facility. According to the science database Hyperphyscis, not enough of the specific plutonium needed in nuclear weapons exists in nature, but it is easily reproduced in breeder reactors, like the Yongbyon facility.
The second reason is the amount of the facilities enriching uranium has doubled over the past years. Hyperphysics reports that obtaining enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb is a difficult task. The uranium used in a bomb must be enriched to over 90%, whereas natural uranium usually caps off at 0.7%. Doubling the amount of facilities dedicated to enriching uranium indicates that North Korea has the ability to achieve the desired 90% to use in nuclear weapons.
However, the possibility of North Korea having an intercontinental ballistic missile is just a guess. According to CNN neither the United States or South Korea know what kind of missile was fired on March 22, or why they missile failed to launch.
While the tests were going on, so were the United States and South Korea’s annual “Foal Eagle” military exercise, one of the largest field training exercises conducted around the world. The “Foal Eagle” exercise began on March 1 and will end on April 30. The exercises often provoke retaliation from North Korea.
Robert Kelly, an associate professor of political science at Pusan National University, told CNN that these recent North Korean missile tests in the past few weeks were most likely in response to the “Foal Eagle” exercises.
“The North Koreans respond to (the drills) almost every year with some kind of out lash or provocation or something like that,” Kelly stated, “missile tests are a nice way to send a signal.”
According to CNN, both the Trump and Obama administrations have said that North Korea’s nuclear capabilities are “extremely difficult” to manage. Both administrations have also admitted that the possibility of North Korea giving up its nuclear program is no longer an option.
Current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the past 20 years attempt to stop North Korea’s nuclear program “have failed”, and former Director of Intelligence James Clapper once called the effort a “lost cause”.