North Korea’s state media reported on Monday that Pyongyang successfully tested a new long-range cruise missile, which allegedly traveled some 1,500km (930 miles) before obliterating its target and splashing into North Korea’s territorial waters.
Several hours after North Korea announced the tests, which were reportedly conducted over the weekend, the Pentagon said it was “aware of reports of DRPK cruise missile launches.” However, it fell short of confirming or denying the fact of the launch, nor did it comment on the type of weapon Pyongyang claimed to have fired into the sea.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and are consulting closely with our allies and partners,” the statement issued by the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) read.
Japan also said it was “concerned” over the reports of the launch.The Defense Department went on to say that the reported launch of the cruise missiles, which are not expressly banned under UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions on North Korea, “highlights” Pyongyang’s “continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that [it] poses to its neighbors and the international community.”
The Pentagon noted that its pledge to protect South Korea and Japan – both countries rely on the US military to defend them in case a major conflict breaks out – remains “ironclad.”
Washington has retained operational control over the South Korean military since 1954 and is set to hand over the reins to Seoul next year as part of a transition plan. About US 28,500 troops are based in South Korea, while some 55,000 are stationed in Japan. According to a March report by the US Government Accountability Office, the US has funneled more than $34 billion into its continuing military presence in the two countries neighboring North Korea between 2016 and 2019 alone.
While Washington claims its presence in the region and displays of power in the form of joint war games with Seoul are needed to deter Pyongyang, North Korea accuses the US of taking a “hostile” approach, refusing to revive stalled denuclearization talks.
In its report on the launch, North Korean state agency KCNA said the missile was designed to serve as “effective deterrence means” able to “contain military maneuvers of hostile forces.”