Updated at 8:25 p.m. ET
North Korea said early Saturday that its intercontinental ballistic missile test on Friday showed its program could hit the United States, according to a statement reported by The Associated Press and Reuters.
The U.S. Department of Defense says the missile, which launched just before midnight local time, traveled roughly 620 miles — from the country’s northern province of Jagang to the Sea of Japan, where it finally splashed into the waters off Japan’s west coast.
There have been no immediate reports of damage, and Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis says the North American Aerospace Defense Command “determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.”
In response to the launch, the Pentagon announced that it had conducted a precision missile firing exercise with South Korea.
President Trump released a statement calling the launch “only the latest reckless and dangerous action by the North Korean regime.”
“The United States condemns this test and rejects the regime’s claim that these tests—and these weapons—ensure North Korea’s security. In reality, they have the opposite effect. By threatening the world, these weapons and tests further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people. The United States will take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region.”
The launch — which the Pentagon was expecting, according to Davis — comes just weeks after the government in Pyongyang marked a milestone by conducting its first successful ICBM test. The missile launched Friday, however, flew farther than the one the country fired July 4 — and demonstrated greater capabilities.
“It does appear that at a minimum this missile may go up to 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles), but it may go as far as 11,000 kilometers (6,800 miles),” Melissa Hanham, senior research associate with the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute, tells NPR’s Robert Siegel.
“And that puts all of the West Coast and the Midwest in range at 10,000 kilometers,” Hanham adds, “and at 11,000 kilometers, pretty much every U.S. state but Florida is in range.”
To this point, the international community has attempted various approaches to slow the progress of North Korea’s weapons program, none of them particularly fruitful.
Less than two weeks ago, for instance, the South Korean government made a rare diplomatic overture to Pyongyang, seeking new military talks with Kim Jong Un’s regime. That offer was never accepted.
South Korea and much of the rest of the world have long tried another tack, as well: sanctions for violating international law with its missile tests. But NPR’s Elise Hu notes that approach has proven less successful than hoped for:
“Despite ‘tough-on-paper’ sanctions designed to stop the flow of nuclear weapons material into North Korea as well as to deliver economic punishment on the regime, the latest research shows the numerous countries expected to enforce the sanctions aren’t doing so. The reasons the sanctions have fallen short include: The sanctions are too complicated to implement, private businesses independently aid North Korea (knowingly or not), and Pyongyang has grown increasingly deft in evading sanctions as it has become more isolated.”
In the meantime, Hanham says the U.S. military has sought to buttress its missile defense, even going so far as to shoot down a mock ICBM in a recent test. But she cautions “those tests aren’t very realistic when it comes to a real war scenario.”
“The terrible problem with North Korea is that there’s really no good options. And that’s why we haven’t had an enormous amount of success in the past,” Hanham says. “You know, there are very few options and all of them are bad.”
The long-running animus between North Korea and its neighbors and the U.S. has only escalated in recent weeks, with the rivals trading increasingly barbed words.
North Korea is “the single most dangerous threat facing the international community right now,” Gen. Mark Milley, the chief of staff of the U.S. Army, told the National Press Club on Thursday. “It is clear, based on [the ICBM launch] over the July 4 weekend, that North Korea has advanced significantly and quicker than many had expected.”
He added that North Korea’s military threat is “the one thing I’m worried about.”
“A war on the Korean Peninsula would be highly deadly. It would be horrific,” Milley said. “The United States military, in combination with the South Korean military, would utterly destroy the North Korean military — but that would be done at high cost in terms of human life.”
In his statement Friday, Davis reaffirmed U.S. support for its allies in the region.
“Our commitment to the defense of our allies, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, in the face of these threats, remains ironclad,” Davis said. “We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from any attack or provocation.”