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North Korea Launches Third Missile Test

29 Nov 2017

On 28 November 2017, North Korea launched its third ICBM (Intercontinental ballistic missile). In a similar fashion to other tests, the missile fell into the Sea of Japan. North Korea has stated it has capabilities to reach the continental USA. The missile was launched from an airfield in Pyongsong.

Key Points

  • On 28 November 2017, North Korea launched its third ICBM (Intercontinental ballistic missile).
  • In a similar fashion to other tests, the missile fell into the Sea of Japan. North Korea has stated it has capabilities to reach the continental USA.
  • The missile was launched from an airfield in Pyongsong.


Armed Conflict: On 29 November 2017, North Korea successfully fired an Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile or ICBM. The missile was launched at 02:48 local time. The missile is reported to have travelled to an altitude of over 4,400 km and a distance of 950km before falling into the Sea of Japan after around 50 minutes of flight. This launch, from Pyongsong in northwest North Korea, was the 20th so far in 2017 and believed to be the 3rd successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). This launch sees the highest altitude that a missile launched by North Korea has reached. This is a significant development in North Korea’s technical ability and if confirmed may allow for a strike on any part of the US mainland.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un has stated that ‘this missile creates a great historical cause in completing the state of nuclear force, the cause of building rocket power.’ North Korean state media said that the country’s missiles ‘would not pose any threat to any country and region as long as the interests of are not infringed upon. This is our solemn declaration.’

North Korea have claimed that the most recent missile tested was a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which has the ability to strike anywhere on the United States mainland. Although North Korea’s claims have not been independently verified, experts have long been expecting a test of a missile that has the potential to reach the US mainland. However, North Korea’s ability to produce a nuclear warhead small enough to be to be fitted to an ICBM is still unclear. Within minutes of the launch taking place, the South Korean military conducted its own missile test of a precision strike missile.

This latest missile test has received international condemnation, with South Korea and Japan becoming increasingly frustrated with the frequency of the missile tests, this latest test was the 20th launch of an ICBM this year. Japan’s prime minister has called for an emergency meeting of the UN security council to discuss the latest test. President Trump has promised to strengthen the regions defences and impose major sanctions on North Korea, he  has also called on China, North Korea’s main ally, to restrain Kim Jong-Un and his government.



The US has few diplomatic cards to play. South Korea and US military forces conducted a new training exercise preparing for a ballistic missile drill in the Sea of Japan, in response to this latest missile test. At present, the Trump administration has sought to increase its global influence by increasing military spending dramatically and cutting its non-military investment (such as aid, investment, and cultural schemes). This may prove to limit American options in the region. Keeping China onside is a priority and selling arms to Taiwan, as the US announced recently, is sure to damage diplomatic relations.

South Korea

North Korea already possessed the weapons to hit any target in South Korea. This missile launch does not change the threat south of the demilitarised zone (DMZ). It does, however, put President Moon in a more difficult position. His rhetoric since becoming president earlier this year has struck a more conciliatory tone thanks to his predecessor, President Park. He has questioned the value of the THAAD missile defence system (the construction of which has irked Beijing and Pyongyang), agreed to meet Kim Jong-un, and vowed to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex – a North-South enterprise. This launch may make Moon less inclined to make concessions in any future discussions. There have been confirmed reports that South Korea performed a missile exercise of its own in retaliation.

Threat to 2018 Olympic Games?

More posturing from Pyeongyang is possible during 2018’s Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea; but the threat of an attack remains low. North Korea is set to enter a team, albeit a small one, and will enter South Korea through the DMZ. Moreover, North Korea’s most important patrons, China and Russia (dependent on investigations into state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes) are set to enter significantly-sized teams. Thousands of travellers and dignitaries from both countries will visit South Korea in the lead up to, and during, the games. Pyongyang will not want to threaten their relationships with these two powers by attacking south of the DMZ during the Olympics.

The most prominent threat to the Olympic Games is if North Korea’s posturing leads to a poorly executed missile launch, with a missile hitting the South accidentally.

Russia and China Unite?

In the aftermath of previous ICBM missile launches, Russia and China issued a joint statement calling for concessions from both sides of this issue. China also agreed to enforce a United Nations ban on the exports of some petroleum products, iron ore and coal to North Korea, as well as textile and seafood imports. In the aftermath of this test, China will likely face international pressure to implement further sanctions. While certainly not agreeing with or condoning North Korea’s actions, Presidents Putin and Xi used the launches as an opportunity to criticise US influence in the region, of which they are wary. Both Russia and China are concerned by the THAAD missile defence system which the US recently constructed in South Korea, as they fear it could be used to attack, not only defend. China especially is concerned with the potential for US troops at its border with North Korea. If the Pyongyang regime was to fall, this would be a potential eventuality.

What Does North Korea Want?

This is the question which analysts have failed to adequately answer for decades; no one can know for certain. The hermit country is never explicit with its true intentions (apart from its rhetoric to destroy the United States). The North Korean government like all governments wish to stay in power and they are well aware that should they successfully hit the United States, South Korea, or Japan, then the shackles would be off for the United States. If such a strike did occur, Russia would be in no position to oppose a full US-led invasion of North Korea, and China would face a difficult decision of whether to protect North Korea and keep its buffer against the United States, or support an invasion and face US troops on its border.

Increased US assertiveness in the region gives Pyongyang some legitimisation for enhancing its weapons programme. Each time the US and South Korea or Japan conduct military exercises, Pyongyang feels vindicated in its own missile testing.

In the past, Pyongyang has suspended its missile and nuclear testing in response to agreements over deliveries of food aid. It could be that Kim Jong-un and the North Korean leadership are looking to use their weapons programme as a way to extract aid from the UN and the US. Their bargaining position for concessions may be improved if they portray themselves to be a credible threat to the security of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea; they may very well know this.


Armed ConflictLow

The risk of armed conflict in the Korean Peninsula remains low. This is mostly due to the tangled web of international interests at play in this potential conflict. The delicacy of the present situation will probably remain for the short- to medium-term, as all sides know that a misstep could lead to a devastating conflict.

It is advisable that those with interests on the Korean Peninsula carefully follow developments over the coming months. This most recent launch does not appear to be a game-changer. It is still important to have an evacuation plan in place, especially for longer term deployments, due to the unpredictability of the security situation.

Solace Global would not advise clients of the need to employ enhanced security measures when visiting South Korea. Travellers should, however, maintain situational awareness and undertake sensible security precautions if visiting the country. It is also important to stay abreast of local media updates.

Travellers should also be aware of the difficulties of visiting North Korea. Due to control of the state, travelling with personal security is not possible. Travellers are usually required to travel with a state-recognised tour group, with state handlers. Travellers are also advised of the strict laws and punishments in the country. Travellers should also be aware that technology with a GPS function must be left with North Korean customs; this limits the ability of those from outside of North Korea to track a traveller’s movements.