Pictures released Friday by state media showed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, along with his daughter, following the launch of what North Korea said was a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile.
North Korea made the training launch in response to “large-scale and aggressive war drills by the United States and traitorous South Korean puppets,” the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s official media outlet, said.
“We will make them understand for themselves that the further their military maneuvers against the DPRK are prolonged and expanded, the more serious the irreversible threat to them will be,” leader Kim was quoted as saying, using the acronym for the official name of North Korea.
The United States and South Korea are holding a major joint military exercise lasting 11 days, which includes the allies’ largest field exercises in five years. The drills have been ramped up over the past year, after North Korea launched a record number of missiles.
At a briefing on Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder reiterated the United States’ position that the exercises “are defensive in nature and are intended to strengthen our interoperability and are intended to deter potential aggression in the region.”
General Ryder said North Korea’s response to the drills is “inappropriate… destabilizing and disturbing.”
While North Korea insists its latest launch was a response to drills, in reality it has been launching missiles, including intercontinental ones, at an intensified level for more than a year.
In 2022, North Korea launched more than 90 missiles, by far the highest number of missiles ever launched in a single year. In early November, it launched 23 missiles in a single day.
US and South Korean officials have warned for months that North Korea has completed preparations for another nuclear test, which would be its seventh since 2006.
North Korea has many possible reasons for conducting weapons tests, including developing new capabilities, demonstrating deterrence capabilities, and signaling resolve to its people.
Thursday’s ICBM launch came just hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s meeting in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
The highly symbolic Yoon-Kishida meeting was meant to signal a greater willingness by Seoul and Tokyo to put historical animosities behind them and focus on common dangers, such as North Korea.
North Korea has reacted angrily to increased Japan-South Korea security cooperation, as well as trilateral cooperation with the United States.