Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects the defence detachment on Jangjae Islet and the Hero Defence Detachment on Mu Islet Reuters

North Korea appears to be edging closer to developing a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the US following a successful weapons test on 14 May which caused alarm across the world.

The Kim Jong-un regime wants to build an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead which can deliver its devastating payload thousands of kilometres away.

At a military parade to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder, Kim Il-sung, grandfather of Kim Jong-un, mysterious new weapons were proudly on show, causing speculation that the country may have developed already an ICBM.

Subsequent missile tests suggest it has yet to achieve this goal, though it is making progress, as demonstrated by its most recent success.

Called Hwasong-12, the new North Korean missile flew for 787km to an altitude of 2,111.5km, according to North Korean media, before landing near the coast of Japan, sparking immediate condemnation from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. North Korea claimed the missile is capable of being armed with a nuclear warhead.

Had the mid-range missile been fired towards a real target at a normal trajectory, experts told Reuters it could have reached as far as 4,000km, potentially putting the US military base on Guam within range. A missile would need twice the maximum range of Hwasong-12 to hit mainland America.

Within North Korea's existing operational arsenal are the Hwasong-5 and 6, Rodong, and Musudan missiles. The Musudan carries the smallest warhead at 650kg, but travels the furthest at 3,000km. The Hwasong-5 has the smallest range, at 300km, but the largest warhead at 1,000kg.

North Korea is thought to have nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Its recent increase in military activity and fierce rhetoric has led to warnings from both its arch-enemy, the US, and its closest ally, China, to stop its attempts to develop an ICBM.

Rising tensions on the Korean peninsula is creating fears of a nuclear war. Should North Korea attack South Korea, the US is sworn to defend the South, an important ally in the region.

US President Donald Trump has suggested that military action against North Korea is an option on the table because it would be intolerable for the Kim Jong-un regime to have an ICBM that could reach American cities.

But any pre-emptive action by the US could trigger a catastrophic war for those living in both the North and South, potentially causing millions of casualties.