North Korea missile tests are part of a familiar strategy
Seoul – Signs are confusing. One day North Korea is raising hopes of talks with South Korea, and the next it is firing missiles or showing off the latest weapons in its nuclear arsenal.
In the past week alone, the North suggested the possibility of an inter-Korean summit and said it would reopen a communications hotline with its neighbour. It also fired long-range cruise missiles, calling it its first hypersonic missile, and tested a new antiaircraft missile on Thursday. Earlier in September, he had launched a ballistic missile from a train rolled down a mountain tunnel, the same day he called the South’s President Moon Jae-in a “stupid”. I
Once again, North Korea is turning to a well-respected, two-pronged strategy designed to flex its military muscles without risking opportunities for retaliation or negotiations.
In the absence of talks with Washington, the missile tests reminded the world that North Korea was developing increasingly sophisticated weapons capable of delivering nuclear weapons. But individually, these short-range or still under development missiles do not pose a direct threat to the United States.
And North Korea has been careful not to go too far, avoiding testing a nuclear device or an intercontinental ballistic missile, which would shock Washington into action with new sanctions or worse.
“North Korea is careful not to cross the red line,” said Professor Yang Moo-jin from the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “Amidst all these missile tests, North Korea is indicating that it is interested in talks.”
North Korea is now implementing that strategy at a complicated diplomatic moment. Mr Moon badly wants talks on the Korean peninsula to resume, a final attempt to cement his legacy before stepping down in May. However, the Biden administration isn’t as keen on including the answer.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un now finds himself in a position to take advantage of that gap between the two allies.
He served three times between 2018 and 2019 under then-President Donald J. Trump, who became the first North Korean leader to hold a summit with a current US president. But his diplomatic efforts failed to lift the severe United Nations sanctions imposed on his poor country following the nuclear and ICBM tests. Soon the pandemic struck, further affecting the economy of the north.
US and South Korean officials had hoped that North Korea’s deepening economic troubles, caused by sanctions and the double whammy of the pandemic, would make North Korea more amenable to talks.
So far, Mr. Kim has proven him wrong.
After his talks with Mr Trump failed in early 2019, he has vowed to slog through economic hardships while expanding his nuclear arsenal, his country’s best diplomatic leverage and the US to topple his government. deterrent against dangers. By showcasing his country’s growing military capabilities, Mr. Kim has sought to legitimize his rule at a time when he has given little to his long-suffering people on the economic front.
Anti-aircraft missile tests on Thursday indicated the North was building a weapon similar to Russia’s S-400, one of the world’s most powerful air-defense systems, according to North Korean weapons expert Kim Dong-yub. is one of. University of North Korean Studies.
The Biden administration has repeatedly urged North Korea to return to talks without preconditions. But Mr Kim said he would not resume talks until he was confident Washington was ready to ease sanctions and its “hostile policy”, including joint annual military exercises with South Korea. also includes.
In his discussions with Mr. Trump, Mr. Kim also made it clear that he was more interested in talks to reduce nuclear weapons than in complete nuclear disarmament. He offered to partially dismantle his country’s nuclear facilities if Washington lifted the sanctions. Mr Trump declined the offer.
“The US is having ‘diplomatic engagement’ and ‘communication without preconditions,'” Mr Kim told North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature on Wednesday. “But this is nothing more than a small ploy to deceive the international community and hide its hostile acts.”
“North Korea is not interested in denuclearization talks to gain an advantage in complying with UN resolutions,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Iwa Women’s University in Seoul. “It wants to rewrite the rules and be compensated for restraint in the form of nuclear power.”
All of this leaves the Biden administration in a difficult bargaining position. Washington is reluctant to include the answer if the country only wants to use the dialogue to ease sanctions without giving up its nuclear weapons. But engaging also doesn’t mean wasting opportunities to put the brakes on the development of North’s own arsenal. It also threatens to spark an arms race in the area.
Mr Kim can’t really attempt the shocking provocations like he did in 2017 – the three ICBM tests and one nuclear test – that brought the Trump administration to the table. Such tests would rapidly increase tensions, invite more UN sanctions and potentially fuel China’s anger by spoiling the mood for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.
So the question for Mr. Kim, analysts said, is how to force Washington to return to negotiations on its own terms without angering North Korea’s traditional allies, China and Russia, which have helped him deal with UN sanctions. Need to escape and rebuild your economy.
In the end, Mr Moon’s government may provide the most promising answer for Mr Kim.
Mr Moon is desperate to get his Korean peninsula peace process, his signature foreign policy, back on track before his single, five-year term ends in May.
“It is our government’s destiny” to carry forward talks with the North, Mr Moon told reporters last week, adding to his efforts to make peace through his three meetings with Mr Kim in 2018 and the summit meetings between Mr. Referring to his efforts to help in the arrangement of Kim and Mr Trump.
This week, Mr Kim also offered words of reconciliation towards South Korea.
“We have no intention, no cause, and no intention to harm South Korea,” he said.
Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, said North Korea was tempting South Korea by avoiding talks with Washington. Other analysts said North Korea was leaning on South Korea to help bring Washington into the talks.
On Thursday, US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim met his counterparts in Japan and South Korea and indicated that Washington would support humanitarian aid to North Korea as an impetus for talks.
The analysis was skeptical that this would be enough.
“I’m not sure the old way of providing humanitarian shipments as incentives will work this time, given the North’s reluctance to accept outside help during the pandemic,” said University of North Korean Studies professor Yang. “North Korea wants the United States to address more fundamental issues regarding its own well-being. It wants a clear commitment from the United States to ease sanctions and guarantee its security.
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