Over the weekend, North Korea announced the successful test of a submarine ballistic missile. Reuters:
The launch is the latest in a recent string of North Korean demonstrations of military might that began in January with its fourth nuclear test and included the launch of a long-range rocket the next month.The tests have increased tension on the Korean peninsula, angered ally China and triggered new U.N. sanctions. Analysts say the tests could be part of a bid by Kim to bolster his position in the run-up to a rare ruling party congress in May.Concern has been growing that North Korea could soon conduct another nuclear test.North Korea fired the missile from a submarine off its east coast on Saturday and it flew for about 30 km (18 miles), a South Korean Defence Ministry official said late on Saturday.South Korea was trying to determine whether the launch may have been a failure, for unspecified reasons, the official said.
North Korea’s foreign minister also told reporters that Pyongyang would pause its nuclear program if the United States stopped conducting joint exercises with South Korea. Speaking in Germany, President Obama brushed aside that suggestion according to the Wall Street Journal:
“That’s not something that happens based on a press release in the wake of a series of provocative behaviors—they’re going to have to do better than that,” he said. “And until they do, we’re going to continue to emphasize our work with the Republic of Korea and Japan, and our missile-defense mechanisms, to assure that we’re keeping the American people safe and we’re keeping our allies safe.”
In a sense, there’s nothing to see here. This kind of behavior—a series of reckless provocations followed by a call for dialogue—is par for the course for Pyongyang. In another sense, however, the big difference from previous such episodes is the apparent progress on the technological front. Kim is expected to officially declare his country to be a nuclear power at the upcoming Party Congress in early May.North Korea has been very assertive in 2016, conducting multiple missile tests and a nuclear test in the past four months. The activity has prompted Japan and South Korea to move closer to each other and toward the United States and has put strain on Beijing, Pyongyang’s only ally. After the launch this weekend, look for China to be under more pressure from Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo to rein in the reckless behavior of its ally.