North Korea has taken a concrete military step by moving a missile with “considerable range” to its east coast, South Korea’s Defence minister has said.
Kim Kwan-jin said it was not clear why North Korea had moved the missile, saying that it “could be aimed at test-firing or military drills”.
While Kim Jong-un’s regime has repeatedly threatened to launch a nuclear strike on America, this missile “does not seem to be aimed at the US mainland”, added the minister.
Mr Kim said the weapon had “considerable range” and a military source told Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, that it could be a “Musudan”, an untested model with a possible range of 2,000 – 2,500 miles, allowing it to strike the US military base on Guam.
But analysts doubt whether the missile could even reach that far.
“North Korea does not have the capability to carry out its threat to attack US bases in Hawaii, the US mainland or Guam using long-range missiles,” said James Hardy of IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.
North Korea has boasted of possessing a “miniaturised, lightweight and diversified cutting edge nuclear” weapon. In reality, said Mr Hardy, the regime could only threaten South Korea and perhaps Japan.
The Musudan missile could be test-fired as a show of strength on April 15, the anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder and “eternal” leader, Kim Il-sung.
The South Korean Defence minister said there was no sign of the North mobilising troops in preparation for large-scale conflict. He described the recent threats as “rhetorical”, adding: “I believe the odds of a full-scale provocation are small.”
But Mr Kim said that North Korea might mount a small-scale attack, such as its shelling of Yongpyeong island in 2010, in which four people died.