North Korea returns to a show of force –

North Korea returns to a show of force

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea issued warnings for more than a week. He swore that the Biden administration would pay a “price,” accused him of raising “a stench” on the Korean peninsula, and called Washington’s effort to open a communication channel a “gimmick”, promising to deal with the “power of the USA”. Energy.”

Now, it seems that North Korea has finished speaking.

On Thursday, it issued its latest warning by launching two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast, the first such test conducted by the country in a year and its first significant provocation against the United States under President Joe Biden.

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North Korea confirmed the test on Friday, saying its army hit a target 373 miles away with a newly developed tactical guided missile that used solid fuel and could perform “slide-and-pull” maneuvers on low-altitude flights. It indicated that the new missile was a modified version of one of three solid-fuel ballistic missiles it has tested since 2019.

The new solid-fuel missiles, which are in mobile launchers, are easier to transport and conceal, take less time to prepare for launch and are more difficult to intercept due to their maneuverability, missile experts said. North Korea said its new missile would be a powerful deterrent for South Korean and US troops.

The launch, which defied the UN Security Council’s ban on ballistic missile testing by North Korea, reflected a country once again turning to shows of force, increasing tensions to gain influence as it the Biden administration completes its review of North Korean policy. The test was also seen as a signal to Washington that Pyongyang will carry out more challenging tests, with longer-range missiles, if it decides that Biden’s policies are unreasonable.

“North Korea uses weapons testing strategically, both to make necessary improvements to its weapons and to attract global attention,” said Jean H. Lee, a North Korean expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. . “With the United States hinting that it will seek to toughen the sanctions regime, North Korea will seek to expand its arsenal by increasing testing.”

The Biden administration has been evaluating whether to address North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats with more sanctions, a new round of dialogue, or a combination of both. As the policy review continues, and the possibility grows that the Biden administration will abandon former President Donald Trump’s summit diplomacy, North Korea appears to be “reverting to a familiar pattern of using provocations to increase tensions.” Lee said.

The Northern maneuvers leave the Biden administration with a difficult choice. Even if it engages North Korea in another round of negotiations, there is no guarantee that the country will give up its nuclear arsenal, which has continued to expand in recent years.

In October, North Korea displayed what appeared to be its largest ICBM in history during a nightly military parade in Pyongyang. North Korean hackers stole $ 316.4 million from 2019 to November 2020, targeting financial institutions and virtual currency exchanges to raise money for their weapons programs, according to UN diplomats familiar with the matter.

US officials fear that North Korea will simply use more talks to buy time and hone its nuclear capabilities. But increased pressure from the United States is sure to lead North Korea to attempt more provocative missile launches and possibly push the Korean peninsula to the brink of war, as it did in 2017.

The Pyongyang regime, which views its leader, Kim Jong Un, as a divine figure, responds strongly to any possible snub from the United States. Thursday’s ballistic missile test came a day after senior US officials dismissed an earlier North Korean missile test as “normal military activity.”

That test, which took place on Sunday, involved two short-range cruise missiles. Biden said he did not create “a new wrinkle.”

“This latest missile launch from North Korea is likely a reaction to US President Joe Biden’s downplay and apparently laughing at his weekend missile tests,” said Harry J. Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the National Interest in Washington. “The Kim regime, just like during the Trump years, will react to even the slightest bit of what they feel is any kind of loss of face or disparaging comments coming from Washington.”

North Korea conducted its last major weapons tests in late 2017, when it launched an ICBM that it said was powerful enough to launch a nuclear warhead at the United States. He then refrained from conducting missile tests as Kim engaged in diplomacy with Trump.

After a Kim-Trump summit collapsed without an agreement in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2019, North Korea resumed a series of short-range ballistic missile tests from May 2019 to March last year, when the tests stopped amid the coronavirus pandemic. Trump dismissed those short-range tests, touting North Korea’s self-imposed moratorium on long-range missiles and nuclear tests as one of his greatest foreign policy achievements.

As details of the Biden administration’s North Korean policy become available in the coming weeks, North Korea is likely to continue to escalate tensions, analysts said.

Kim will “keep it going through gradual escalation, culminating in an emphatic show of force,” which could include the flight test of a new, larger but untested ICBM that North Korea launched during a military parade in October. past, Lee Sung-yoon said. an expert on North Korea at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

At a party meeting in January, Kim vowed to continue advancing his country’s nuclear capabilities, declaring that he would build new solid-fuel ICBMs and make its nuclear warheads lighter and more accurate. He called the establishment of a nuclear force in North Korea “a strategic and overriding objective” against adversaries.

Kim also said that his foreign policy would focus on “containing and subduing” the United States, “our main enemy.” He stressed that his North Korean policy “will never change, whoever comes to power in the United States.” And in recent days North Korea has made its anger with the Biden administration very clear.

Last week, Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister and his spokesman on relations with Washington and Seoul, accused the United States and South Korea of ​​causing “a stench” on the Korean peninsula with their annual military exercises. North Korea also said it did not feel the need to respond to recent attempts by the Biden administration to establish a dialogue, dismissing them as a “time delay trick.”

On Friday, after a North Korean businessman was extradited from Malaysia to face trial in a US court on charges of money laundering and violation of international sanctions, North Korea warned that Washington would pay “the due price.”

The series of statements left officials and analysts wondering what was next. With its missile test on Thursday, “North Korea was following up on Kim Yo Jong’s warning,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, an think tank near Seoul.

Analysts are watching Washington closely to see if Biden’s approach to North Korea will move away from the more direct engagement favored by Trump and toward the “strategic patience” of former President Barack Obama, which meant a gradual increase in sanctions.

When Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Seoul last week, he said the policy review included both “pressure options and potential for future diplomacy,” and that it would be completed in close coordination with South Korea and Japan.

He also called on China to use its vast economic influence over North Korea to help roll back its nuclear weapons program.

US officials frequently complain that China has failed to crack down on North Korean sanctions evasions that occur in Chinese territorial waters. They have also said that China was likely helping North Korea with the cyber theft that it has used to fund its nuclear program in recent years. But Thursday’s missile test showed that China’s influence in North Korea remains “limited,” Cheong said.

“North Korea believes that if the United States tries to impose sanctions, China will cover it,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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