North Korea feeling bold with missile testing

According to South Korea's military, North Korea tested its twelfth missile launch of the year.  Two missiles were launched from the city of Hamhung and soared 68 miles with an altitude of 15 miles off the country's east coast.  Kim Jong-un was present and viewed his government's "new tactical weapon" with delight.  According to the Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, their military and intelligence agencies conducted an emergency meeting to discuss counteractions and assess the danger.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in has ordered all government ministries to detect any advancement from North Korea.  The U.S. special envoy to North Korea reiterated the need for a strong response from Washington and Seoul.  A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense stated, "We are aware of the North Korean statement that they conducted a test of a long-range artillery system.  We analyze all activities in close coordination with our allies and partners." In addition to that statement, The US is committed to the defense of South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

North Korea has continued to increase its testing of missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), despite violating international law.  North Korea conducted 12 tests in the first four months of 2022 compared to just four tests in 2020 and eight in 2021.  Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said North Korea's goal is to create missiles that can penetrate defense systems with "features that can fly them under the US and South Korea's radars."  In March, North Korea test-fired an ICBM with the capability of hitting the U.S. mainland in its first long-range missile test since 2017.

North Korea's ultimate goal is to have a nuclear weapons arsenal against U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan in case of an invasion.  Professor Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies says North Korea can use a limited number of nuclear weapons against the U.S.  "They have some deterrence, but what I think the North Koreans really, fundamentally want is the ability to use a much larger number of nuclear weapons against U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan if they thought an invasion was underway," said Professor Lewis on CNBC's Squawk Box Asia.

According to Lewis, North Korea is working toward conducting a test on its nuclear weapons capabilities.  North Korea sealed off entrances to its nuclear testing tunnels in 2018.  Still, satellite images captured in March show construction on tunnels North Korea had previously tested.  During Donald Trump's presidency, two summits were held with Chairman Kim to negotiate the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.  The second one held in Hanoi ended immediately, as neither side was able to agree on the removal of economic sanctions.  "In a sense, the gloves are off," said Professor Lewis.  "They don't really feel bound by any of the commitments they made in 2018 when the diplomacy period started."  

Twenty twenty-two is an important year for the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (DPRK).  It is the tenth anniversary of Kim Jong-un's rule and the 110th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder, Kim II-sung.  President Lee Sang-hyun of the South Korean think-tank Sejong Institute said Kim may be under stress to "show off his achievements."  April is an important month, and it provides an opportunity "to show off to the world about their country's missile and nuclear capabilities."

The U.S. and South Korea began joint military defensive simulations.  South Korea's president-elect, Yoon Suk-yeol, has promised to expand drills to deter North Korea's developing nuclear and missile threats.  Yoon and Kim do not have any confirmed meetings before Yoon takes office but anticipate that he will take a hard-line approach.  When it comes to North Korea's nuclear program, "we know that there's going to be a nuclear test when Kim Jong-un feels like it."

Image via Pixabay.

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