New heights for North Korea's missile program

STORY: North Korea forged ahead with its missile program in 2022 - as world events like the pandemic and the war in Ukraine fractured international pressure against it.

It acknowledged its first COVID-19 outbreak in May - prolonging border closures and blocking international engagement.

But that did little to slow its weapons tests - and this past year may have provided the clearest evidence yet that North Korea sees itself as a permanent nuclear weapons power.

For years, Pyongyang has been banned from nuclear tests or missile launches by the United Nations Security Council.

But China and Russia vetoed a U.S.-led push to impose more U.N. sanctions on North Korea in May.

That move publicly split the council for the first time since it started punishing Pyongyang in 2006.

North Korea was busy in 2022.

It resumed testing intercontinental ballistic missiles - rolled out a series of short-ranged missiles, AND started preparations to re-open its shuttered nuclear test site.

It also successfully launched the massive new Hwasong-17 - which is believed to have the range to strike anywhere in the United States.

One former U.S. diplomat told Reuters quote - "we are in dangerous and unchartered territory when it comes to the North Korean threat" - and says that the possibility of denuclearizing North Korea has all but disappeared.

As North Korea opens up to trade and travel again, analysts say it will likely continue to side with China and Russia and be less concerned with engagement with the United States or South Korea.

Heightened tensions are likely to continue if Pyongyang feels COVID is too big of a threat to return to the negotiating table.

That would see even more weapons tests into 2023.