Archive for the ‘North Korea intercontinental ballistic missile’ category

Remote Textile Plant May Secretly Fuel North Korea’s Weapons

September 27, 2017

Remote Textile Plant May Secretly Fuel North Korea’s Weapons, New York Times, September 27, 2017

A suspected production site for an advanced rocket fuel known as UDMH in Hamhung, North Korea. The kidney-shaped ponds near the bottom of the image appear designed to hold large amounts of wastewater, consistent with UDMH production.

Asked how North Korea could have so extensively developed this fuel without apparent outside notice, Mr. Lewis said outside analysts too often saw the country as primitive and backward.

“If you watch them in satellite photos and read their technical publications, it looks like a totally different country,” he said.

He added, sighing, “We’re in full-scale denial about North Korea’s capabilities.”

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In the remote North Korean city of Hamhung, separated from the capital by vast, jagged mountains, an inconspicuous chemical plant may be secretly fueling the growing missile array that threatens the United States.

Researchers think that the plant is producing a specialized rocket fuel known as UDMH, which is used in the long-range missile launches that have escalated tensions between North Korea and the United States.

This would settle an esoteric but crucial debate among North Korea watchers, and not to Washington’s favor.

Some have argued that North Korea cannot produce the fuel, implying that the country imported it from Russia or China. Those countries could then be pressured to cut off exports, grounding North Korea’s missiles without firing a shot.

But the new finding, produced by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury University, suggests that North Korea has mastered UDMH production, closing off one of the last avenues for outside curbs on the country’s increasingly sophisticated weapons programs.

Though North Korea may have previously relied on foreign assistance in obtaining or making the fuel, as some analysts believe, it no longer appears to need the help.

A photo from North Korea’s state news agency in 2010 purporting to show Kim Jong-il, the country’s leader at the time, at the February 8 Vinalon Plant in Hamhung. The plant is suspected of making missile fuel. Korean Central News Agency, via Reuters

Short of war or the country’s collapse, he added, “There’s nothing to stop this program from becoming a monster.”

The finding is based on satellite imagery, a technical analysis of UDMH production methods, information from a North Korean official who defected, and a set of obscure North Korean technical documents.

Jeffrey Lewis, who directs the Middlebury center’s East Asia program, had been hunting for weeks for hints of UDMH production.

“There are no real, obvious signatures for it,” he said, because it can be made with common chemicals like chlorine and ammonia using a variation of a process developed in 1906. India, while quietly developing its missile program in the 1970s, had produced UDMH in an old sugar factory.

The breakthrough came when his team found and translated a set of highly technical articles in an official North Korean science journal, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, that referred to the fuel.

The articles, which ran between 2013 and 2016, discussed mundane matters like managing highly toxic wastewater, a notorious problem in UDMH production. But they betrayed suspiciously sophisticated knowledge. One explored methods for improving purity, crucial in advanced missiles.

“They don’t read like this is a speculative or nascent endeavor,” Mr. Lewis said. “They read like this is a problem they’ve been working on for a while,” describing problems a country would encounter only after producing large quantities of the fuel.

Another state news agency photo was said to show the launch of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile in July. The fuel UDMH makes such long-range weapons possible. Credit Korean Central News Agency, via Associated Press

It was an odd location for a highly trained rocket fuel specialist to work. The plant normally produces vinalon, a cheap synthetic material sometimes called “juche” fiber — a reference to North Korea’s tenet of juche, or self-reliance — that is often used in North Korean textiles and uniforms.

But it had long been, Mr. Lewis said, “our No. 1 candidate for UDMH production.”

His team had initially flagged the plant after scrutinizing, in painstaking detail, satellite images of Hamhung for clues.

The remote city is not an obvious home for sensitive military sites. Sitting on the country’s eastern coast, it is exposed to airstrikes, like the American bombing missions that devastated it in the Korean War.

But Ko Chong-song, a North Korea official who defected in the early 1990s, indicated in a 2001 book that it was the center of secret military chemical work. The Central Intelligence Agency had suspected as much since at least 1969, when it published a secret assessment of chemical production in Hamhung.

Now, Mr. Lewis’s team, looking again at the plant, noticed two unusually large wastewater pools, which aligned with standard UDMH production methods — and with the paper describing wastewater challenges. And Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, they found, had made a series of trips to the plant, underscoring its importance.

“That’s about as clear-cut as it gets,” Mr. Lewis said.

While the finding reveals important information about the extent of North Korea’s progress, it may come too late for the United States to act.

The country has most likely already stockpiled enough fuel to fight an extended war, Mr. Lewis said. And the fuel is designed to remain potent for years. Soviet UDMH lasted so long that, after the country collapsed, the United States had to help de-fuel its ICBMs.

Asked how North Korea could have so extensively developed this fuel without apparent outside notice, Mr. Lewis said outside analysts too often saw the country as primitive and backward.

“If you watch them in satellite photos and read their technical publications, it looks like a totally different country,” he said.

He added, sighing, “We’re in full-scale denial about North Korea’s capabilities.”

Part II: Tough Is Not Enough

September 4, 2017

Part II: Tough Is Not Enough, 38 North, September 4, 2017

(In what fantasy world does the author live? He states,

What sort of deployments (strategic systems, missile defense, precision strike conventional weapons, conventional land, sea, special and air forces) would be a function of both military and diplomatic would need to be hammered out in the National Security Council and with regional allies.

It is inconceivable that the UN Security Council, where each permanent member has a veto, would approve any “deployment of significant and visible assets [which] would make it clear to the DPRK that it cannot compete with the US in the nuclear field regardless of the size, scope, pace and duration of that effort.”  Even were it to happen, North Korea would be told, in advance, how to prepare for whatever America and perhaps our allies will do when North Korea again tests or uses a nuke or missile. 

Please see also, North Korea Nuclear Test Puts Pressure on China and Undercuts Xi. — DM)

North Korea Nuclear Test Puts Pressure on China and Undercuts Xi

In Part I of this seriesI argued that advocates for “getting tough on North Korea” were prone to adopt inappropriate models for a harsher sanctions regime and to ignore the risk of counterproductive North Korean reactions to such sanctions. This is not an argument for no more sanctions. Given North Korean progress on its ICBM and nuclear weapons capabilities, we remain in an ongoing cycle of actions and reactions that may lead to a major war. A very vigorous political/military effort to contain and eventually eliminate the DPRK nuclear threat is essential now before the tensions and ill-considered rhetoric once again create the risk of the US and North Korea bellowing and stumbling their way into a catastrophic conflict. But sanctions should be only one element of the effort. The final push for a stabilization[1] of the North Korean nuclear and missile issue has to include the following components.

Military Deterrence and Defense

The additional deployment of significant and visible assets would make it clear to the DPRK that it cannot compete with the US in the nuclear field regardless of the size, scope, pace and duration of that effort. What sort of deployments (strategic systems, missile defense, precision strike conventional weapons, conventional land, sea, special and air forces) would be a function of both military and diplomatic would need to be hammered out in the National Security Council and with regional allies. The purpose of these forces would be both to provide diplomatic leverage and to prevent Kim from believing a military gamble would pay off.

Sanctions and Targeted Secondary Sanctions

The sanctions campaign should begin with the enforcement of UNSCRs 2270 and 2371. The initial goal would be to get full compliance with some of the difficult-to-enforce provisions, notably the caps on joint ventures and on North Korean labor exports. To this end, the US should target secondary sanctions on Chinese and other third country entities that are violating the UN resolutions. Rather than seeking to squash every sanctions-evading gnat, it should inflict significant pain on one large and vulnerable entity to have a bracing effect on many more. And, it might well create massive ripple effects if it is a key node in North Korea’s sanctions evasion network—for example, Chinese companies outlined in the recent C4ADS report—that are clearly violating UN sanctions and making extensive use of the US banking system. The US may also wish to find a similar target outside the Chinese network of businesses—perhaps one in a friendly Middle Eastern or African country that has chosen to ignore past US efforts to cut connections to Pyongyang. The US should for now avoid steps to coerce others to accept its own definition of sanctions that go beyond the resolutions. It appears that the most recent sanctions by the US Treasury against Chinese, Russian and one Namibian entity, as well as a recent freeze on some aid to Egypt, may fit the model described above.

However, it is unlikely the UN sanctions as currently written will suffice. The US should be building the case now for significant sanctions tightening if North Korea does not shift its current direction. This should best be done in steps, perhaps starting with the change of the labor and investment caps and moving to a full ban as a first iteration with the dusted off version of UNSCR 661 as the final alternative to military conflict. As the risk of conflict moves closer, the US will have to consider when secondary sanctions as a coercive mechanism for third countries needs to be deployed more widely. This is a high-risk enterprise in an already risky situation, but when stacked up against nuclear war in Asia, surely secondary sanctions are preferable.

Many Tracks of Diplomacy

These tough military and sanctions components will do nothing but open the door to miscalculation and war if other “softer” components are ignored or—more likely—mishandled. A stabilization of the Korean nuclear and missile issue is going to require multilateral diplomacy—and only the US has the ability to be at the center of this effort. It cannot subcontract the effort primarily to China. The PRC does not have the entre with some of the players, nor could it speak for the US to the most difficult audience of all: Pyongyang. These rings of diplomatic activity have existed in one form or another for many years, but they will need to be greatly invigorated and placed in the service of a clear set of policy objectives. These rings include:

  • US-ROK and US-Japan: This ring will need to create a solid front on possible military deterrence force deployments and on a sanctions strategy in the United Nations. The Trump administration appears to be in the middle of such an effort.
  • US-PRC: This ring is key. It needs to be removed from undisciplined and uncoordinated public commentary and shifted to sustained bilateral dialogue. Washington will need to enlist Chinese assistance both to create sanctions pressure on Pyongyang and to generate multilateral negotiations and a viable US-DPRK diplomatic channel. The US cannot expect pressure without political dialogue and Beijing cannot expect dialogue without real pressure on Pyongyang. The less we hear about the content of this channel (not to mention the US-DPRK channel) in public the better.
  • UN Security Council: Iraq sanctions failed when P-5 unity in the UNSC failed. The Trump Administration deserves credit for maintaining P-5 unity with the passage of UNSCR 2371, but this will have to be the first of many efforts in the Council.
  • Six Party (US, ROK, China, Russia, Japan and DPRK): At some point this channel will have to generate the political agreements and the framework for a settlement. There is nothing sacred about this particular forum or format, but something like it will have to be active and available for the formal public structure of a diplomatic settlement.
  • A direct US-DPRK channel: With one exception in the second term of the George W. Bush administration, the most rapid and extensive progress I have seen in over 28 years of interchange with North Korea over the nuclear issue has always taken place in a US-DPRK bilateral channel. The potential causes of war lie between Washington and Pyongyang. The US would be well advised to put together a small, tight, empowered negotiating team to create a channel for bilateral discussions. If the leak-prone and undisciplined Trump administration could manage to do so without us all hearing about it, so much the better.

Orchestrating this diplomacy will be one of the most complex challenges of the past 50 years. It is unclear whether the US State Department—suffering from several levels of missing leadership, low morale and persistent and unhelpful interference from the White House—is up to the task. But a way will have to be found to perform it if there is to be success on this issue.

Clarity, Discipline and Accountability in Public Commentary

US diplomacy during the recent dust-up with North Korea over its July ICBM tests was clumsy and amateurish: the incendiary rhetoric coming out of the White House needlessly escalated tensions and the uncoordinated and incoherent public messaging sowed confusion among our allies over US goals and intentions. That said, it did signal that the United States was approaching the limit of its patience over North Korean missile developments. Nevertheless, a policy vacuum continues to exist.

The United States has not made clear to Pyongyang, the American public, or its allies how it would respond to North Korean nuclear intimidation or aggression. There may be a place for strategic ambiguity in deterrence policy under some circumstances but not strategic incoherence. As a result of the loose and imprecise US rhetoric and mixed messaging, all parties are groping for an understanding of what might trigger nuclear conflict in Korea and beyond. To end this confusion and uncertainty, an authoritative figure such as the Secretary of State or Defense should give a policy speech which lays out for the American public, our allies, the Chinese and the North Koreans what American nuclear deterrence policy is vis-a-vis North Korea—and then the White House needs to discipline itself and other agencies to hew scrupulously to this script in all their public messaging on the policy.

The speech or the press backgrounding around it should also designate a single, high level official who would be accountable for the North Korean issue; this is simply not an issue that can survive current White House tong wars, presidential pique or bureaucratic backstabbing. This speech will also be the best place to signal that toughness will be accompanied by dialogue. It needs to open the door to real negotiations with a concrete proposal. This could be done through a proposal to reopen Six Party Talks or through a prearranged signal to Pyongyang that certain words in the speech are an invitation to a private authoritative back-channel discussion.

Goals and Trade Bait

The Obama administration’s efforts on North Korea foundered on a couple of rocks. The first was its inability or unwillingness to commit political capital to an issue that was highly controversial, with a very small (or nonexistent) solution set and a timeline that was less pressing than the Iran nuclear issue. The second was that the only goal for resolving or even trying to resolve the crisis that could garner consensus support was complete DPRK denuclearization. However, given the Obama administration’s unwillingness to invest fully in the issue, the White House’s highly constrained room for political maneuvering and Pyongyang’s commitment to its nuclear strategy, the goal of denuclearization became an obstacle to even starting a process for dealing with Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile progress.

Denuclearization remains a worthy goal and it is the only one that preserves the global nonproliferation regime and the long-term security of the US and its allies. But the first goal of renewed diplomatic engagement needs to be more focused and urgent: to stabilize peace in Northeast Asia and to prevent a stumble into a nuclearized second Korean War. Achieving this goal, by definition, will require North Korea to put limits on its ICBM program, which is the essential immediate need for American security policy. There are interim steps that would be of value in preserving peace and security. The parties might wish to develop mechanisms to prevent accidental war. It might also be a worthy tactical goal to create geographic limits on North Korean missile testing targets, thus putting US territories like Guam and Japanese waters off limits. The US might, at some point, trade off a particular sanction in return for a firm ICBM testing ban or moratorium or a halt to nuclear tests.

At no point should the US take ultimate denuclearization off the table, but it is necessary first to identify immediate steps to stabilize what is a dangerous dynamic. The two great dangers to pursuing more modest, immediate goals will be the accusation the US has “accepted” a nuclear DPRK and the concessions the DPRK may want. Sanctions should be considered legitimate items to trade. Our alliances should not. Our political relationship with the DPRK—including at some point a peace treaty ending the Korean War—should be legitimate points of discussion. Tangible payments to the DPRK should not, given the unfortunate experiences the ROK and US had with such payments in past agreements.

Conclusion

In a policy with any hope of resolving US and global concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat, sanctions play an important but supporting role. The key to a successful effort to deal with the North Korean threat without war is a combination of military deterrence, sanctions, a complex diplomatic offensive with clear and realistic short-term goals, and perhaps most importantly, a disciplined, clear public elucidation of US deterrence and diplomatic policy for Korea. The “tough” part of this approach (military deterrence and sanctions) is well within the reach of the Trump administration. Whether it has the personnel, structure and capacity for discipline for the diplomatic and public components of the effort is yet unproven.


  1. [1]

    Stabilization is chosen deliberately in this sentence. Denuclearization should be the long term stated goal of the effort but that goal should be placed in the same context as “general and complete disarmament” as used in Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It is a legitimate goal, but one that is far over the horizon. The key goal at this moment is to halt momentum towards having North Korean nuclear weapons capable of reaching the US homeland.

Trump, Putin, Xi: Talking fades to shows of force

July 31, 2017

Trump, Putin, Xi: Talking fades to shows of force, DEBKAfile, July 31, 2017

(Please see also, Haley Says ‘No Value’ in Another UN Resolution Against North Korea: ‘The Time for Talk Is Over’. — DM)

The message from Beijing was clear: The threat to Chicago and Los Angeles would have to be dealt with by the White House in Washington, not Beijing.

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Over the weekend, three world leaders, US president Donald Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping stepped off the diplomatic path over their differences on world issues and switched to displays of military might.

In a show of force after North Korea’s two ICBM tests, two US B-1B bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons, escorted by South Korean and Japanese fighters, took off from Guam Saturday, July 29 and cut across the Korean peninsula. There was no word on whether they entered North Korean skies.

Further west, US Vice President Mike Pence toured East European capitals. Speaking in Tallinn, Estonia, he assured “our Baltic allies” – as well as Georgia and Montenegro, his next destinations: “We are with you and will stand with you on behalf of freedom.”  He said that the president would soon sign the latest round of sanctions voted on by Congress, since “Russia’s destabilizing activities and support for rogue regimes and its activities in Ukraine are unacceptable.”

Shortly after President Donald Trump criticized China over failing to deal with North Korea, President Xi Jinping in a general’s uniform viewed a huge military parade Sunday marking the People’s Liberation Army’s 90th anniversary. Xi is the PLA’s commander in chief. Whereas the annual parade usually takes place in Beijing, this one was staged at the remote Zhurihe military base in Inner Mongolia., with the participation of 12,000 soldiers, 100 bombers and fighters and a display of 600 weapons systems, 40 percent of them new products of China’s arms industries.
“The world isn’t safe at the moment,” the Chinese president told his people. “A strong army is needed more than ever.”

The Russian president meanwhile showcased his naval might in a huge parade of vessels stretching from the Dnieper River in Moscow to Saint Petersburg, through the Baltic port of Kaliningrad, to Crimea on the Black Sea and up to Russia’s Syrian base at Tartus.  Taking part were 50 warships and submarines.

Standing on the deck of the presidential warship as it sailed past the Kremlin’s walls, Putin congratulated the Russian navy on its great advances.

He then disembarked, headed to his office and ordered 755 U.S. diplomats to leave the country by Sept. 1, in retaliation for the new round of sanctions against Russia ordered by the US Congress. More than 1,000 people are currently employed at the Moscow embassy and three US consulates in Russia.

“We waited for quite some time that maybe something will change for the better, had much hope that the situation will somehow change, but, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon,” Putin said. “It is time for us to show that we will not leave anything unanswered.” He added menacingly that there are many areas of Russian-American cooperation whose discontinuation would be harmful to the US. “I hope we don’t have to go there,” he said.

These muscle-flexing steps by the three world powers add up to an ominous shift from their brink-of-cold war diplomatic interaction to a new level with the potential for tipping over into limited military clashes.

The penny has finally dropped for Trump that President Xi has no intention of cracking down on North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, even though he declared after a successful second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that “the US mainland is without our striking range.”

The message from Beijing was clear: The threat to Chicago and Los Angeles would have to be dealt with by the White House in Washington, not Beijing.

Xi may accept that the US president may eventually be forced to take some military action against North Korea’s missile and nuclear facilities. But he may also be counting on such action being a one-off, like the 59-US Tomahawk missile barrage that hit the Syrian air base of Shayrat on April 7.  Because that dramatic strike was not the start of an organized campaign against the regime in Damascus, it failed to unseat Bashar Assad and in fact made him stronger. Once America has vented its anger, the Chinese president hopes its military offensive against Kim will be over and done with.

For six months, Putin waited to see whether Trump was able to beat down the media-boosted war waged against his presidency by political and intelligence enemies at home, much of it focused on the Russian dimension. His patience with the US president and his troubles at home is clearly at an end.

On Sunday, July 30, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the new sanctions “completely weird and unacceptable,” adding “If the US side decides to move further towards further deterioration we will answer, we will respond in kind. We will mirror this. We will retaliate,” he stressed.

The gloves have clearly come off for the ramping up of friction among the three powers in the various world flashpoint arenas, whether in Europe, the Far East, or other places.

How to neutralize the North Korea threat

July 11, 2017

How to neutralize the North Korea threat, Washington Times,  Ronald Kessler, July 10, 2017

(Here’s a May 16th video about the capabilities of the technology:

The new technology is similar to EMP but more selective and therefore more accurate. It seems excellent. — DM)

Illustration on way to neutralize the North Korean threat by Alexander Hunter/The Washington Times

They may sound like science fiction, but no doubt Mr. Trump has both HPM and robotic weapons in mind when he says he is contemplating “pretty severe things” to counter the North Korean threat.

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Whenever we hear about viable options for stopping North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the answer is always the same: There are none. Any military strike against that country would result in retaliation against South Korea, we are told.

But what has gone largely unnoticed in the media is that there are viable alternatives to waiting passively until North Korea has the capability of wiping out millions of Americans with nuclear weapons. The first is the U.S. Air Force’s development of missiles that zap electronics with high-power microwaves (HPM).

That capability, which is entirely different from cyberwarfare designed to confuse computers, has been advancing secretly ever since the Air Force successfully tested use of a missile equipped with HPM in 2012.

Called the Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), the missile was built by Boeing’s Phantom Works for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at a cost of $38 million. The Boeing missile emits high power microwaves that fry computer chips so that no electronic devices targeted by the missile can operate.

On Oct. 16, 2012, the CHAMP missile flew over a two-story building on the Utah Test and Firing Range. The building in the west Utah desert was crammed with computers and security and surveillance systems. The microwaves took down the compound’s entire spectrum of electronic systems, including video cameras set up to film the test, without damaging anything else.

“We hit every target we wanted to,” Boeing’s CHAMP Program Manager Keith Colman said in a company press release. “Today we made science fiction into science fact.”

Until the announcement of the successful test, the project had been top secret. When it was announced, only a few trade publications ran the story, and since then, beyond a few mentions, the media have ignored the story. Instead, they have focused on how impossible it is to deal with the North Korea threat.

The beauty of the HPM missile is that its microwave beam can penetrate bunkers where facilities are hidden without harming humans inside. Even if a bunker is buried inside a mountain, HPM penetrates the facilities through its connections to power cables, communication lines and antennas. Thus, HPM can penetrate any underground military facility and fry its electronics.

While North Korea may attempt to shield its equipment, U.S. officials doubt that would be effective against CHAMP.

Most amazing of all, the missile renders inoperable any radar that might detect it as it flies to and from a target. Thus, a country cannot take out CHAMP before it strikes and has no way of knowing why its facilities have suddenly gone dead.

Besides underground bunkers, HPM can quickly disable fighter planes, tanks, ships and missile systems. And it can wipe out facilities for developing and testing nuclear weapons.

Unlike an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) created by detonating a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere, because it is targeted, HPM leaves intact civilian facilities needed to sustain life. Unlike any other existing system like cyber-attacks, CHAMP permanently destroys electronic equipment.

America’s national laboratories operated by the Department of Energy have been working on these capabilities for decades. Equally impressive, one of those laboratories, Sandia National Laboratories, has been developing robots the size of insects that could assassinate the North Korean leader with deadly toxins.

These robotic weapons using nanotechnology employed in surgical operations in hospitals are being developed secretly with funding by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

While President Ford banned assassinations with an executive order, that order was based on the assumption that other world leaders are rational and would refrain from trying to assassinate our president unless we tried to assassinate them. But we are dealing today with terrorist organizations and world leaders who are not rational and do not care if they are killed.

President Trump could reverse Ford’s obsolete executive order with the stroke of a pen. With robotlike weapons using nanotechnology, the CIA could wipe out Kim Jong-un without risking American lives.

They may sound like science fiction, but no doubt Mr. Trump has both HPM and robotic weapons in mind when he says he is contemplating “pretty severe things” to counter the North Korean threat.

While President Obama preached “strategic patience” in dealing with North Korea, Mr. Trump has made it clear he will not stand by while the North Korean leader threatens our survival.

North Korea claims it tested first intercontinental missile

July 4, 2017

North Korea claims it tested first intercontinental missile, Washington Times, , July 4, 2017

This image made from video of a news bulletin aired by North Korea’s KRT on Tuesday, July 4, 2017, shows what was said to be North Korea leader Kim Jung Un, center, applauding after the launch of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, ICBM, in North Korea’s northwest.

SEOUL — North Korea claimed to have tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile in a launch Tuesday, a potential game-changing development in its push to militarily challenge Washington — but a declaration that conflicts with earlier South Korean and U.S. assessments that it had an intermediate range.

The North has previously conducted satellite launches that critics say were disguised tests of its long-range missile technology. But a test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, if confirmed, would be a major step forward in developing a nuclear-armed missile that can reach anywhere in the United States.

Still, the launch appeared to be the North’s most successful missile test yet, a weapon analyst said could be powerful enough to reach Alaska.

The launch seems designed to send a political warning to Washington and its chief Asian allies, Seoul and Tokyo, even as it allows North Korean scientists a chance to perfect their still-incomplete nuclear missile program. It came on the eve of the U.S. Independence Day holiday, days after the first face-to-face meeting of the leaders of South Korea and the United States, and ahead of a global summit of the world’s richest economies.

U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials say the missile fired from North Phyongan province, in the North’s western region, flew for about 40 minutes and reached an altitude of 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles), which would be longer and higher than any other similar tests previously reported. It also covered a distance of about 930 kilometers (580 miles). South Korean analysts said it was likely that it was a retest of one of two intermediate-range missiles launched earlier this year.

Once U.S. missile scientist, David Wright, estimated that the missile, if the reported time and distance are correct, would have been on a very highly lofted trajectory and could have a possible maximum range of 6,700 kilometers (4,160 miles), which could put Alaska in its range, if fired at a normal trajectory.

North Korea has a reliable arsenal of shorter-range missiles, but is still trying to perfect its longer-range missiles. Some analysts believe North Korea has the technology to arm its short-range missiles with nuclear warheads, but it’s unclear if it has mastered the technology needed to build an atomic bomb that can fit on a long-range missile.

Soon after the morning launch, President Donald Trump responded on Twitter: “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”

“This guy” presumably refers to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. China is North Korea’s economic lifeline and only major ally, and the Trump administration is pushing Beijing to do more to push the North toward disarmament.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga suggested the altitude of this missile might have been higher than earlier tests. He did not give further details, including the distance of the flight and where in Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan the missile landed.

Just last week South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Trump met for the first time and vowed to oppose North Korea’s development of atomic weapons.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sharply criticized North Korea for the launch. “The latest launch clearly showed that the threat is growing,” Abe said.

Abe, who talked by phone with Trump on Monday, said the two leaders plan to seek cooperation from world leaders when they attend a G20 summit in Germany.

Lee Illwoo, a Seoul-based military commentator, said the missile traveled for a far longer period of time than if it would have been fired at a normal angle. A North Korean scud-type missile, with a range of 800-900 kilometers, would land in its target site within 10 minutes if fired at a standard angle of 45 degrees. Lee said it’s likely that North Koreafired either Hwasong-12 missile or a solid-fuel Pukguksong-2, both of which were tested in May.

On May 14, North Korea launched the Hwasong-12 missile, which its state media later said flew as high as 2,111 kilometers (1,310 miles) and landed in a targeted area in the ocean about 787 kilometers (490 miles) from the launch site. On May 21, North Korea also tested the Pukguksong-2, which traveled about 500 kilometers (310 miles).

China’s U.N. ambassador, Liu Jieyi, warned Monday that further escalation of already high tensions with North Korea risks getting out of control, “and the consequences would be disastrous.”

The Korean Peninsula has been divided since before the 1950-53 Korean War. Almost 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

Tuesday’s launch is the first by the North since a June 8 test of a new type of cruise missile that Pyongyang says is capable of striking U.S. and South Korean warships “at will.”

Since taking office on May 10, Moon has tried to improve strained ties with North Korea, but the North has continued its missile tests. Pyongyang says it needs nuclear weapons and powerful missiles to cope with what it calls rising U.S. military threats.