SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – New president of the United States, the same playbook as North Korea. Almost.
Two months after President Joe Biden took office, North Korea is turning to weapons testing again. start external concessions. But the tests so far have been relatively small compared to previous releases. That indicates that Washington has a window of engagement before North Korea pursues further provocations.
This week, North Korea’s neighbors reported that the country fired four short-range missiles into the sea in its first missile launches in about a year. The launches, two on Sunday and two on Thursday, came after North Korea said it had rejected the Biden administration’s offers of dialogue, citing what it called American hostility.
Here’s a look at recent North Korean missile launches and their motives.
WHAT IS DIFFERENT IN THE NORTH KOREA STRATEGY THIS TIME?
North Korea has a long history of conducting major weapons tests when new governments take power in the United States and South Korea.
In February 2017, less than a month after Donald Trump became president of the United States, North Korea tested a medium-range missile that observers said showed progress in weapons mobility. Later in 2017, four days after the inauguration of current South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korea fired what it called a newly developed nuclear-capable intermediate-range missile.
In 2009, North Korea carried out a long-range rocket launch and nuclear test within the first four months of the Obama administration’s first term.
This week’s weapons tests appear to largely follow that playbook, but experts believe the country refrained from a more serious provocation because the Biden administration is still evaluating its North Korean policy.
The four missiles fired this week were all short-range and did not pose a direct threat to the continental US According to South Korea’s assessment, the first two weapons launched on Sunday were believed to be cruise missiles. But Japan said the two fired on Thursday were ballistic missiles, weapons more provocative than UN Security Council resolutions forbid testing North Korea.
“The basic pattern is not very different. But while North Korea in the past focused on showing its full potential when a new government came to the United States, I feel like the North is trying to control the level of (its provocation), ”said Du Hyeogn Cha, an analyst at Seoul Asan Institute for Political Studies.
WHAT DOES NORTH KOREA WANT?
What he has always wanted: “For the United States to lift sanctions and allow it to maintain its nuclear capability,” said Moon Seong Mook, an analyst at the Seoul-based Korea National Strategy Research Institute.
Because the Biden administration is unlikely to do that anytime soon, some experts say North Korea may carry out larger provocations, such as a long-range missile test or a nuclear detonation.
For now, he’s increasing his rhetoric alongside short-range missile launches.
In January, about 10 days before Biden took office, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced that he would expand its nuclear arsenal and strengthen the country’s combat capabilities to deal with hostile US policy and military threats. . He also pressured South Korea to suspend regular military exercises with the United States if it wants better ties.
When the US and South Korean armies went ahead with their spring exercises this month, Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, warned the US to “refrain from causing a bad smell” if it wants to “sleep in peace.” for the next four years.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington reached out to Pyongyang starting in mid-February, but Pyongyang has not responded. Yet alongside the proposal, Blinken continued to criticize North Korea’s human rights record and nuclear ambitions when it visited Seoul last week. North Korea’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said her country will continue to ignore those US offers due to what she called American hostility.
The recent launches appear to be an example of North Korea “putting Kim Yo Jong’s threats into practice, as he said the United States cannot sleep in peace if it does not accept his demands,” Moon Seong Mook said.
Experts say the Biden administration is highly unlikely to back down and make concessions to North Korea’s short-range missile launches. Biden, who has called Kim “a bully,” is also not likely to sit down for a one-on-one conversation with Kim unless he agrees that North Korea will denuclearize, and officials confirm the country is sincere.
Amid the standoff, North Korea could end up launching larger weapons tests, especially if it is unhappy with the Biden administration’s North Korean policy review expected to be released soon, experts say.
“Biden probably won’t do a Trump-style ‘reality show summit’ with Kim. Kim’s agony in the next four years will subsequently deepen and his nuclear game cannot prevent it from continuing, ”said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at the University of South Korea.
North Korea could turn to long-range missiles and even nuclear tests, which Kim Jong Un suspended when it began diplomatic relations with Washington. While Kim Jong Un has claimed to have achieved the ability to strike the US homeland with nuclear missiles, outside experts said North Korea has not mastered everything it would need to do that.
Such a major provocation would induce the United States and its allies to seek additional UN sanctions against North Korea.
But tougher sanctions can be difficult because China, North Korea’s main diplomatic ally and economic lifeline, wields veto power in the UN Security Council. Given its current tensions with Washington, China may not easily accept more sanctions even if North Korea participates in nuclear or long-range missile tests, analyst Cha said.