Shortly after North Korea launched the Hwasong-12 in May, the scientists who developed the intermediate-range ballistic missile were honored on the streets of Pyongyang as national heroes.
“The buses carrying them went through the streets of the capital full of flowers of welcome,” KCNA, the state-run news agency, reported at the time. “Citizens warmly congratulated them, waving flags of [North Korea], red flags and bouquets.” Among those offering his congratulations was Kim Jong Un. KCNA reported that the 33-year-old North Korean leader “hugged officials in the field of rocket research, saying that they worked hard to achieve a great thing.”
Scenes like those will probably be repeated over and over again if the last few months are any indication. So far in 2017, the North has carried out a dozen successful missile tests, and is well on its way to surpassing last year’s 14 successful launches. Two of this year’s tests were of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that are capable of reaching the United States. In this time, North Korea has also been assessed as possessing a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can be fitted onto an ICBM. Last week it stunned the world by testing what it called a hydrogen bomb, far more powerful than anything the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The accomplishments are all the more impressive given that North Korea is one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world; until recently was one of its most reclusive; and has a leader who can seem almost cartoonish until he shocks the world with yet another missile or nuclear test.