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Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
North Korea may be preparing to test an “even more capable” intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) — one that may “enhance” the DPRK’s ability to threaten the U.S., according to congressional testimony by one of Washington’s top military commanders.
In a written statement submitted to a U.S. House panel overseeing the country’s missile defense, General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, warned that North Korea’s recent short-range missile tests — along with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un’s own words — may be signs that Pyongyang’s ability to threaten the U.S. has grown.
“Kim Jong Un has demonstrated the capability to threaten the U.S. homeland with nuclear-armed ICBMs,” O’Shaughnessy wrote in his testimony.
“During the December 2019 plenary meeting of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, Kim stated it was time for North Korea to take offensive measures to ensure the sovereignty and security of the country and claimed that he would soon unveil a new strategic weapon,” he continued.
“While Kim did not specify what this new weapon would be, recent engine testing suggests North Korea may be prepared to flight test an even more capable ICBM design that could enhance Kim’s ability to threaten our homeland during a crisis or conflict,” he said.
O’Shaughnessy said that Kim’s Jong Un had claimed the DPRK had already completed the research and development phase of its nuclear weapons program — and suggested that the North’s recent short-range missile tests may make Pyongyang’s arsenal even more effective.
“In the last year, North Korea has tested several new short-range missile systems, demonstrating advancing technologies that could eventually be incorporated into its strategic systems,” he wrote.
O’Shaughnessy’s comments come just days after the DPRK conducted its first missile tests and military drills of the new year.
On Monday, Kim Jong Un oversaw the Korean People’s Army’s (KPA) third artillery fire “strike drill” and second testing of a large-caliber multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) in ten days, according to DPRK state media.
When asked about the North’s first test, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters last week that he “no reaction.” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said at a Senate hearing that the threat of North Korea’s ballistic missiles has become “increasingly complicated.”
Thursday’s hearing, which focused on the American missile defense budget, also comes as the U.S. and North Korea appear to have lost seemingly all diplomatic momentum after multiple presidential summits and high-stakes negotiations failed to yield a deal that could satisfy both countries.
A senior Pentagon official in charge of nuclear and missile defense policy testified at the hearing on Thursday that the brief period of diplomacy had not stopped the North’s weapons programs.
“North Korea has worked aggressively to develop nuclear ballistic missiles capable of threatening the U.S. homeland, allies, and partners,” said Dr. Robert Soofer, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, in written testimony.
“Despite our diplomatic efforts, North Korea continues its ICBM programs that will allow it to strike the United States,” he wrote.
For its part, Pyongyang says its missiles are merely self-defensive — a deterrent against what it sees as American aggression.
When European countries criticized the North’s first recent missile test last week, DPRK state media lashed out.
“How are we supposed to protect our country and hold in check the military power of the U.S. and South Korea in front of our eyes?” an unnamed foreign ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying in the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).
“The illogical thinking and unreasonableness of these countries are increasingly resembling the United States, which is hostile to us.”
Thursday’s House hearing also included testimony from Lieutenant General Daniel Karbler, the commanding general of the U.S. Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command; Vice Admiral Jon Hill, the director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency; and Cristina Chaplain, a senior official at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The hearing was conducted by the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on strategic forces.