SEOUL-On Wednesday, North Korea tested two short-range ballistic missiles. This is the second launch in less than a week and the most recent attempt to increase diplomatic pressure on the United States.
The South Korean military, which monitors such launches, stated that the North Korean missile flew about 800 kilometers, reached an altitude of 60 kilometers, and then splashed into the sea off North Korea’s east coast.
The Ministry of Defense of Japan stated that these projectiles did not enter Japanese territory, but fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The US Military Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that the launch “highlights the destabilizing impact of North Korea’s illegal weapons program.”
It is unclear what type of missile was launched. Since 2019, North Korea has tested a variety of new short-range ballistic missiles.
The launch was carried out two days after North Korea claimed to have tested a new long-range cruise missile. This is the first known missile test conducted by Pyongyang in about six months.
North Korea tests a long-range cruise missile designed to evade defense
This is North Korea’s first missile test in six months
At the end of last month, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency stated that North Korea appeared to have restarted a nuclear reactor that produces plutonium at the Yongbyon nuclear power plant.
Some analysts said that these actions show that North Korea is trying to increase its bargaining chips with the United States when the nuclear negotiations are at a deadlock. North Korea often engages in diplomacy after increasing tensions through verbal threats or weapon tests.
North Korea’s latest launch coincides with a visit to Tokyo by Kim Sung, the U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea, and he is meeting with his colleagues in South Korea and Japan.
On Tuesday, the U.S. envoy reiterated Washington’s proposal to restart negotiations unconditionally, stating that the U.S. is ready to cooperate with North Korea on humanitarian issues “regardless of the progress of denuclearization.”
But Park Won-geun, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, pointed out that these types of statements did not seem to satisfy North Korea.
“North Korea has many reasons to pressure the United States,” Park Geun-hye said. “Although Kim Sung’s expression may sound conciliatory, he has also repeatedly stated that the United States will not accept North Korea’s request to lift sanctions.”
Trying to attract attention?
Although the administration of US President Joe Biden has expressed its willingness to resume negotiations with North Korea, most of its focus has been placed on other places, such as the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and efforts to fight COVID-19. Some analysts say Pyongyang may feel neglected.
Bong Young-sik, a researcher at the North Korean Research Institute of Yonsei University, said: “North Korea has expressed dissatisfaction with the Biden administration in the name of a cautious and cooperative North Korea policy. The Biden administration has always adopted a very passive policy towards North Korea.” Seoul South Korea Research.
Bong said that another possible factor is the upcoming presidential election in South Korea. So far, the movement has rarely discussed North Korea. Instead, candidates focus on economics and COVID-19 policy.
He added: “The North Korean leader has definitely decided to increase the level of provocation in order to attract more attention from all parties involved.”
North Korea arms race
North Korea may also be conducting missile tests to keep up with the expanding arsenal of its neighbor South Korea, which recently introduced new ballistic missile technology.
On Wednesday – the same day North Korea launched its ballistic missile – South Korea announced its first underwater test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
The experiment observed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in made South Korea the seventh country with a homegrown SLBM.
North Korea did not comment on the South Korean launch, but it has repeatedly complained about the military build-up in Seoul in recent months.
For most of this year, North Korea has been paying attention to domestic issues, including natural disasters, epidemic prevention and food shortages. As these crises still exist, some analysts predict that North Korea may avoid major provocations such as long-range ballistic missiles or nuclear tests, as this may lead to further economic and diplomatic isolation.
In June of this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stated that North Korea is preparing for “dialogue and confrontation” with the United States.
A few months later, North Korea briefly reopened several communication lines with South Korea, which gave people high hopes for Pyongyang to enter a new stage of diplomacy. But a few days later, after South Korea and the United States continued to conduct joint military exercises that Pyongyang deemed provocative, North Korea cut off the hotline.