On August 29, 2017 North Korea fired an unidentified ballistic missile over Hokkaido - Japan's northernmost island. The missile landed about 1,200 kilometres (745 miles) off Hokkaido, into the Pacific Ocean. Though there were no reports of damage, countries from all over the globe have once again expressed concerns over North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. In reality, North Korea’s ballistic missile programme poses a very serious security threat to Northeast and Southeast Asian nations - who are well within reach - after Pyongyang demonstrated the range of their missiles on several occasions in recent times. As criticisms mounted against Pyongyang over its development of nuclear weapons during the last few years, the programme has actually existed over several decades.
The origins of the North Korean nuclear programme can be traced back to the Cold War (1947-1991) between the Eastern Bloc and Western Bloc (due to geopolitical tension after World War II), when North Korea began seeking out nuclear weapons as means of self-preservation against foreign powers, particularly the US. Here is a timeline of North Korea's nuclear programme between 1979 and 2017, as compiled from AFP and Bloomberg:
1979: North Korea starts working on its own variant of the Soviet-made Scud-B ballistic missiles - a 300-kilometre-range missile - it obtained from Egypt. North Korea begins reverse engineering these missiles and reproducing them with its very own missile-building infrastructures.
April 1984: North Korea test fires the reverse engineered Scud-B missile that is renamed as the Hwasong-5. The North Korean variant is only meant to validate its production process as the missiles are not deployed and produced in limited quantity.
1987 to 1992: North Korea begins developing variants of missiles, including the Scud-C (500 kilometres), the Rodong-1 (1,300 kilometres), the Taepodong-1 (2,500 kilometres), the Musudan-1 (3,000 kilometres) and the Taepodong-2 (6,700 kilometres). In 1988, North Korea deploys the Scud-C missiles. In 1990, it test fires the Rodong-1 missile.
August 1998: North Korea test fires the Taepodong-1 over Japan under the pretence of a failed satellite launch.
September 1999: North Korea agrees to temporarily suspend long-range missile tests in order to relieve sanctions on the nation. Negotiation talks between US and North Korea begin.
July 12, 2000: Despite five rounds of missile talks between North Korea and the US, both nations fail to reach an agreement. North Korea demands a compensation of US$1 billion a year in exchange for halting missile exports. The US rejects its demand.
2003: North Korea withdraws from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The objective of this treaty is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.
March 3, 2005: North Korea announces that it is no longer bound to its five-year moratorium on long-range missile tests. It condemns the US administration’s aggressive stance on completely eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
July 5, 2006: North Korea test fires seven ballistic missiles, including variants of Scud, Rodong and Taepodong. The Taepodong-2 missile - with a range of 10,000 kilometres - explodes forty seconds after launch.
October 9, 2006: North Korea conducts its first underground nuclear test.
2007: Operational deployment of Rodong missiles.
April 5, 2009: North Korea launches a long-range rocket which flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean. North Korea claims it is an attempt to put a satellite into the orbit. However, Japan, South Korea and the US believe it is a disguised attempt to launch the Taepodong-2 ballistic missile. United Nations (UN) starts condemning North Korea for its nuclear activities and calls for the strengthening of punitive measures. North Korea responds by withdrawing from six-party nuclear disarmament talks between South Korea, US, China, Japan and Russia, which aims to find a peaceful resolution to the security concerns as a result of the North Korean nuclear weapons programme.
May 25, 2009: North Korea conducts its second underground nuclear test, which is reported as a success.
July 2009: North Korea test fires the SCUD and Rodong missiles.
December 17, 2011: Former North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il dies.
December 29, 2011: Kim Jong Un is officially declared North Korea's new leader.
April 13, 2012: North Korea attempts to launch the Unha-3 rocket in order to put a satellite into orbit, but it disintegrates soon after blast-off.
December 12, 2012: North Korea attempts to put a satellite into the orbit by launching the Unha-3 rocket once again. This time it succeeds and places an Earth observational satellite into the orbit.
February 12, 2013: North Korea conducts its third underground nuclear test.
May 2015: North Korea claims to have tested a submarine-launched missile and says it has developed technology to mount nuclear warhead onto a missile.
July 2015: North Korea conducts a series of missile tests ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Seoul - the capital city of South Korea.
September 2015: North Korea threatens nuclear attacks against the US and reaffirms that its main reactor is operational.
January 6, 2016: North Korea carries out its fourth nuclear test and reports that it has successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.
February 7, 2016: North Korea launches a long-range rocket and claims it placed another satellite into the orbit.
March 9, 2016: North Korea claims it has successfully miniaturised a thermonuclear warhead.
April 15, 2016: North Korea tries, but fails, to test fire what appears to be a medium-range missile on the birthday of its Founding Leader Kim Il Sung.
April 23, 2016: North Korea test fires a ballistic missile from a submarine.
July 8, 2016: US and South Korea announce plans to deploy an advanced missile defence system – THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence).
August 3, 2016: North Korea fires a ballistic missile directly into Japanese waters for the first time in history.
August 24, 2016: North Korea successfully launches another ballistic missile from a submarine.
September 5, 2016: North Korea fires three ballistic missiles about 1,000km. At least one of the missiles entered Japan's ADIZ (Air Defence Identification Zone).
September 9, 2016: North Korea conducts its fifth nuclear test. A 5.3-magnitude seismic activity is detected near the test site.
October 16, 2016: North Korea fires a ballistic missile that immediately explodes after launch.
February 12, 2017: North Korea fires its first ballistic missile in 2017, as a show of force against the US and Japan for reiterating their security alliances. The missile is believed to be a mid-range Rodong, flying about 500 kilometres before landing in the Sea of Japan.
March 6, 2017: North Korea fires four ballistic missiles. Three of them fall into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, just 300 kilometres of the coast of Japan.
March 7, 2017: The US begins deploying the THAAD missile defence system in South Korea.
April 16, 2017: North Korea fires an unidentified ballistic missile that explodes almost immediately after launch.
April 29, 2017: North Korea test fires a ballistic missile from Pukchang, North Korea. The missile reaches an altitude of 71 kilometres before disintegrating.
May 14, 2017: North Korea fires a ballistic missile which flies 700 kilometres before landing in the Sea of Japan. It has an estimated range of 4,500 kilometres and brings Guam within its reach. Guam, the US island territory in Micronesia, is located in the western Pacific Ocean.
July 4, 2017: North Korea test fires a ballistic missile that analysts say would bring Alaska within its reach. North Korea later says it was a “landmark” test of a Hwasong-14 ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile).
July 28, 2017: North Korea launches a missile with a theoretical range of 10,000 kilometres. This exposes much of the US to potential missile attacks from North Korea.
August 26, 2017: North Korea fires three short-range ballistic missiles. One missile blows up immediately after launch while the other two fly about 250 kilometres (155 miles) in a northeast direction. The launches are spread over a period of thirty minutes.
August 29, 2017: North Korea fires a ballistic missile across Japan. South Korea says it was launched from Sunan, near the capital city in North Korea. The missile travels approximately 2,700 kilometres and at a maximum altitude of 550 kilometres.