New report reveals why Trump really shouldn't be shrugging off North Korea's short-range missile tests

ReutersDonald Trump and Kim Jong Un
  • President Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed North Korea’s latest missile testing activities, but a new report suggests he should be paying more attention.
  • A new United Nations Panel of Experts report explains that North Korea’s testing of new solid-fuelled short-range ballistic missiles is not only strengthening its ability to defeat missile defence systems, but they are potentially informing the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could someday range the US.
  • “This is why the spate of North Korea’s short-range missile tests should concern even Trump,” one North Korea expert tweeted Thursday. “They are not unrelated to future developments in the long-range missile systems.”
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President Donald Trump has been shrugging off North Korea’s missile tests because they are short-range weapons, systems that do not pose a direct threat to the US, but a new United Nations report suggests the president should be paying closer attention.

In recent months, North Korea has conducted more than half a dozen tests involving at least two new solid-fuelled short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). The country has also tested a new type of rocket artillery.

And while these new systems threaten US allies, as well as US forces, Trump has repeatedly downplayed North Korean weapons tests, dismissing them as largely inconsequential because of their shorter ranges.

Missile launches this past summer “enhanced [North Korea’s] overall ballistic missile capabilities,” a new UN Panel of Experts report out Thursday explained.

Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, a member of the UN Panel of Experts that wrote the report for the Security Council, told38 North, a website dedicated to North Korea research and analysis, that the recent launches “showed mastery of key components of ballistic missile systems.”

“The DPRK’s capacity to penetrate ballistic missile defence systems has increased,” the report explained. The missiles that North Korea has been testing are road-mobile, they fly low and at high speeds, and they are manoeuvrable.

“That’s a nightmare for missile defence. And it’s only a matter of time before those technologies are migrated to longer-range missiles.” Vipin Narang, a North Korea expert and MIT professor, recently told The New York Times.

The UN report, citing unidentified member states, said that North Korea’s ballistic missile program operates in such a way “that developments on the SRBM [program] benefit MRBM/IRBM and ICBM [programs].” Basically, short-range weapons testing benefits the development of longer-range weapons, such as intermediate-range missiles that can ranges US bases across the Pacific and intercontinental ballistic missiles that can range the US.

“This is why the spate of North Korea’s short-range missile tests should concern even Trump,” Vipin Narang explained on Twitter Thursday. “They are not unrelated to future developments in the long-range missile systems.”

In another section of the UN report, it explains that “there is a clear development progression from propellant for artillery rockets/SRBMs to solid propellant for ICBMs,” meaning that North Korea’s work with solid-fuelled systems may benefit the development of a new, more dangerous ICBM.

North Korea has only tested two ICBMs, the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, both of which were liquid-fuelled missiles. Solid-fuelled missiles can be fuelled in advance and require a smaller crew to launch, and they can be launched with little to no warning, making them ideal for surprise attacks and sudden second strikes.

Even if North Korea has not tested ICBMs, there is still evidence that it is moving in that direction and strengthening its arsenal. The UN report warns that North Korea’s “current goal appears to be to develop a solid-fuelled first stage for its ICBM.”

“Don’t dare say you’re surprised when we see a North Korean solid-fuel ICBM,” Ankit Panda, a foreign policy expert and senior editor at The Diplomat, tweetedThursday, adding that this could become a reality “probably sooner than we’d like.”

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