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Report: Pentagon considering military response to North Korea’s ICBM test

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un poses in a video showcasing North Korea's Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile launch, March 24, 2022. (Screenshot)
March 31, 2022

The U.S. Department of Defense is considering a series of “military responses” to North Korea’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, according to five defense officials who spoke with CNN on Thursday.

Last week, North Korea launched its Hwasong-17 ICBM, marking its first full test of an ICBM in more than four years, with its largest missile to date.

In the hours after the launch, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, though the U.S. took no immediate military response to the launch.

The officials told CNN the response could include a range of military movements near the Korean Peninsula, such as flying bombers in the region and sailing warships in nearby waters. The response package could also include new military drills with South Korean and Japanese forces. The officials said South Korea and Japan are already being consulted on the potential responses and could be a part of any eventual show of force.

North Korea’s last ICBM test took place on Nov. 28, 2017. Months after the launch, then-President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un entered a period of denuclearization talks. During that period, Kim entered into a self-imposed moratorium on ICBM launches. Those denuclearization talks fell through in 2019 without an agreement.

North Korea has conducted numerous smaller weapons tests in the time since the denuclearization talks ended, but last week’s ICBM test has raised fears North Korea could also resume nuclear weapons tests. CNN reported signs North Korea is preparing for a new underground nuclear weapons test, which would also be the country’s first.

The ICBM launch last week prompted criticism from President Joe Biden’s administration. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration “strongly condemns.” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the launch “demonstrates the threat the DPRK’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs pose to the DPRK’s neighbors and the region as a whole.”

The officials told CNN this week that North Korea recently resumed construction activities and began digging new tunnels, which could be used for such underground nuclear tests. Commercially available satellite images obtained by CNN also indicated construction activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site near Pyongyang.

Like the Trump administration before it, the Biden administration has continued to hold the offer open for renewed talks with North Korea. Both administrations have been unsuccessful in getting North Korea to the negotiating table since 2019.

“The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions,” Psaki said following North Korea’s ICBM test last week. “The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and Republic of Korea and Japanese allies.”