North Korea Tested Missiles Last Weekend, US Has Mixed Reactions
“Yeah, let’s break this down. This is a message that has several different audiences.”
North Korean President Kim Jong-Un reportedly supervised a “strike drill” for multiple rocket launchers in the East Sea, according to a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report on Sunday night.
The state news agency added that the purpose of the exercise was to test the performance of “large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons by defense units.”
Reuters reported that photographs released by KCNA “showed the tactical guided weapons fired could be short-range, ground-to-ground ballistic missiles, according to Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Korea’s Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern (IFE)Studies.”
While the missile launch would be in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions, the launch did not seem to involve the use of long-range ballistic missile which Reuters said the U.S. has deemed as a more direct threat.
“What was sobering for me was that unexpectedly, there was a photo of short-range, ground-to-ground ballistic missile, otherwise known as the North’s version of Iskander,” IFE’s Kim told Reuters.
The test came after Jong-Un met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow on April 25 and 26. During the meeting, Jong-Un stressed that he needed a guarantee of sanctions relief before it would start to dismantle all nuclear programs.
The last time the communist state launched a missile test was in November 2017. At that time, Pyongyang claimed its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic (ICBM) launch was a success.
What Does Kim Want?
Some analysts claimed that the North Korean military exercise was an effort to increase pressure on Washington D.C. following the collapse of talks with President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, last February.
“It is an expression of the North’s frustration over stalled talks with the United States. It is a message that it could return to the previous confrontational mode if there is no breakthrough in the stalemate,” Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum, told the Irish Times.
Jean Lee, the Wilson Center’s policy expert, echoed Uk’s statement, saying that the missile test was a sign that Jong-Un wants to talk.
“Yeah, let’s break this down. This is a message that has several different audiences. First and foremost, remember that it was President Trump who walked away from that negotiation Hanoi, by all accounts. And so what Kim Jong Un is doing is he’s getting impatient. He’s frustrated. He wants to accelerate the pace of getting back to that negotiation. And so this is a reminder,” Lee told NPR.
Others suggested that North Korea’s test was also a protest over continued joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises. Pyongyang condemned the exercises during the meeting between Jong-Un and Putin in Moscow last April.
US Reaction to North Korea Missile Test
U.S. President Donald Trump downplayed the significance of the North Korean test by saying Pyongyang would not do anything that could harm ties with the U.S.
“Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!” Trump tweeted.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also downplayed the missile test but by referring to how the North Korean missile test moratorium only focused on intercontinental missile systems.
“The moratorium was focused, very focused, on intercontinental missile systems, the ones that threaten the United States for sure,” Pompeo told Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
Some analysts were critical of the the U.S. response and worried that Pompeo’s statement risked giving North Korea the green light to another more provocative test. The test also means that Jong-Un has broken a commitment with Trump to not test any types of missiles.
“Even if internally the U.S. administration accepted that the missile-testing moratorium applied only narrowly to ICBMs, as Kim has publicly stated, don’t say it,” Vipin Narang, an expert on North Korea’s nuclear program at MIT, told Vox. “At least stick with the vague language of ‘long-range missiles’ to cover the weapons that threaten our forces and allies in the region.
Jeffrey Lewis, another North Korean analyst and Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute added in a tweet, “The South Koreans aren’t on board with Pompeo’s ‘test anything you want as long as it can’t reach me’ standard.”