Why is North Korea suddenly launching so many missiles?

SEOUL — North Korea started the new year by call a meeting for the ruling Workers’ Party during which very little was said about the Un...


SEOUL — North Korea started the new year by call a meeting for the ruling Workers’ Party during which very little was said about the United States. This sinister silence didn’t last long.

Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, has launched six ballistic missiles in four weapons tests since January 5, almost as many missiles in a month as North Korea launched in all last year. On Tuesday, South Korea’s military confirmed that the North fired two cruise missiles in its fifth test of 2022.

The message was clear: the North Korean leader feels ignored and wants to push the Biden administration to re-engage and pay attention to his economically struggling nation.

Individually, the tests may not amount to much – they involved missiles that have already been tested or weapons that are still under development. But taken together, they signal that Mr. Kim plans to use 2022 to shake up the The Biden administration is awakening from its diplomatic slumber.

Mr Kim needs Washington to engage with him on economic concessions so he can repair the devastated economy of his country. Over the years, he’s learned that the best way to get an American president’s attention is with guns. And that the best time to do so is when the world can least afford instability.

According to this manual, 2022 is shaping up to be a promising year.

China is busy preparing for the Beijing Olympics next month. South Korea elects a new president in March. Russia has hinted at a possible invasion of Ukraine, keeping the The Biden administration on hot coals.

At a Politburo meeting last Wednesday, Kim suggested his administration could resume testing long-range missiles and nuclear devices after suspending those tests ahead of his 2018 summit meeting with President Donald J. Trump. .

“2022 calls for continued saber-rattling, punctuated by major missile testing,” said Lee Sung-yoon, a North Korean expert at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “Kim’s goal is to trivialize short-range ballistic missile flights as a fact of life without any repercussions, after which he will move on to greater provocations by resuming medium- and long-range missile testing punctuated with a nuclear test, as it did in 2017.”

That year, North Korea tested what it called a hydrogen bomb and also launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles. It was also the year Mr Trump took office after a vicious campaign in the United States. South Korea comes from deposed its president.

Wednesday was the second time Mr Kim has threatened to lift the moratorium on long-range missiles and nuclear testing. After his diplomacy with Mr Trump ended without a deal in 2019, he noted he no longer felt bound by the commitment. ​But he did not follow through with such tests, and his country was soon plunged into the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year also marks the start of Mr. Kim’s second decade in power and a chance for him to reassert his authority.

Since taking office, he has focused on building the country’s arsenal to validate his family’s dynastic rule, calling its nuclear weapons a “precious sword” that protects North Korea against the foreign invasion.

At Wednesday’s meeting, he urged North Koreans to celebrate the 80th birthday of his father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, in February, as well as the 110th birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il- sung, in April. .

Under his father and grandfather, North Korea had seemed open to giving up its nuclear ambitions. But those hopes faded under Mr. Kim, who quickly expanded the country’s nuclear program, even as the United Nations piled on sanctions.

AlthoughMr Kim has often been portrayed abroad as a leader potentially capable of opening up his isolated country for economic development, his nuclear weapons are, as North Korea has put it, “not a bargaining chip”.

Rather, the country sees them as tools to bring Washington to the negotiating table. And by that logic, the more powerful the arsenal, the more clout Mr. Kim has.

Even when he promised to focus on economic development in 2013, Mr. Kim remained true to his “parallelobjective of strengthening its nuclear force. The country conducted more than 130 missile tests under his leadership, compared to a total of 16 tests under his father and 15 under his grandfather. The last four of the North’s six nuclear tests have all taken place under his direction.

“By advancing its nuclear capabilities and weapons systems, North Korea is showing the United States and South Korea that the more time passes, the higher the price they will have to pay,” Choi said. Yong-hwan, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul, written in a recent guidance document.

Yet despite its best efforts to soften its power, North Korea appears to be low on the Biden administration’s list of international priorities.

Washington has taken no action to lure Mr Kim except to offer talks “without preconditions”, a lukewarm plea that North Korea has rebuffed.

But it has not resumed testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Instead, North Korea has focused on testing missiles that can carry what it calls “smaller, lighter and more tactical” nuclear weapons. These types of weapons do not pose a direct threat to the United States, but they could bolster Mr. Kim’s leverage with Washington by placing U.S. allies such as South Korea and Japan under nuclear threat.

In North Korea first two tests this month, the country launched short-range ballistic missiles with what it called “hypersonic glide vehicles, detachable warheads that make weapons harder to intercept because they not only fly extremely fast, but also change course during flight.

In one test on January 13, North Korea launched the KN-23, one of three new solid fuel ballistic missiles the North has been testing since 2019.

Solid fuel missiles are easier to transport and launch. The KN-23 can perform maneuvers at low altitudes, which makes them more difficult to intercept. North Korea has also started launching variants of the KN-23 from a submarine, as it do in October, and trains, as he did in September and even this month.

In his most recent test, North Korea fired a pair of solid-fuel missiles from a mobile launch vehicle. When the North first launched such a pair in 2019, there was a 16-minute gap between the two missiles fired.

This gap was reduced to four minutes in the recent test, indicating that the military has improved its ability to fire multiple missiles and hide them from counterattacks by the United States and South Korea.

“North Korea hopes that if it continues to demonstrate its nuclear capabilities but confines them to the Korean peninsula, it won’t aggravate public opinion in the United States and strengthen voices there calling for compromise,” he said. said Cha Du-hyeogn, lead researcher. at the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies, wrote in a recent paper.

For this strategy to work, Mr. Kim will need China’s continued help to resist any further international sanctions. North Korea’s economic challenges have been deepened two years ago when it closed its border with China to fight the pandemic. This month, Beijing confirmed that “through friendly consultation”, China and North Korea have reopened their border for freight trains.

“This moment suggests that Beijing is more than complicit in Pyongyang’s provocations,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “China supports North Korea economically and coordinates with it militarily.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Why is North Korea suddenly launching so many missiles?
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