North Korea Appears To Be Officially Back In The Missile Test Firing Business

If initial estimates are correct, it is the first over-the-horizon missile firing by North Korea in a year and a half.

byTyler Rogoway|
China photo


It seemed sadly inevitable, but today it appears to have come to pass—North Korea has fired a number of short-range missiles from the resort city of Wonson along the country's eastern shore. The test comes just two weeks after Kim Jong Un resumed high-profile inspections of military units and oversaw the test of a small tactical guided munition. It's also the first firing of a missile with over-the-horizon range since November 28th, 2017, when Kim Jong Un personally oversaw the test of the Hwasong-15 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. 

What happened after the incredibly provocative act was a year and a half of detente driven by North Korea. It began with a sudden outreach from Pyongyang to Seoul regarding the 2018 Olympic Games. The U.S. followed suit and Kim declared his nuclear and missile goals accomplished for the time being and announced a new era where his focus would be on economic expansion.

After a series of diplomatic exchanges and two faltered engagements at the highest level between Trump and Kim, nothing came in terms of tangible denuclearization. In fact, North Korea never even changed its long-standing language regarding denuclearization that isn't even remotely similar to the White House's goals. 

 Meanwhile, South Korea's Moon Jae In, who bet heavily on a new era of peace between South Korea and its estranged neighbor to the north, has continued to try to move the diplomatic process forward with weakening results. What did change is North Korea's status on the world stage. Kim is now a world traveler who has renewed his precarious relationship with his country's primary benefactor, China. Kim even met just recently with Vladimir Putin who has taken a new interest in North Korea and its elevated international status.

Today's launch also came after Trump and Putin talked on the phone about North Korea and as the Hermit Kingdom drastically cut back on food rations to its citizens. Kim had demanded that sanctions installed due to his nuclear and missile programs be lifted to improve the lives of his citizens even though he has been seen driving around his palaces in Pyongyang and abroad in a fleet of new armored limos, including Rolls Royces, Mercedes Maybachs

We cannot underestimate how big a message this is from North Korea. Trump had said Kim promised he wouldn't start with the test firings again if the U.S. didn't execute big military exercises with South Korea and continued with negotiations. Well, North Korea has since said it meant ICBMs only, while the U.S. meant all major missiles. In addition, even relatively small restructurings of South Korean-U.S. exercises has drawn extreme ire from the regime. But regardless, by breaking the moratorium now, it seems clear that Kim is ready to return to his old ways of getting attention. Today's firing of short-range missiles, said to have flown between 70km and 200km, would be just about as predictable of an opening shot in renewed missile diplomacy as one can imagine from the rogue regime. 

As for the types of missiles tested, we just don't know for certain at this time, but short-range ballistic missiles are possible, as are coastal-defense cruise missiles or even very long-range rocket artillery. The type does matter to some degree, as long as it wasn't short range artillery or small tactical missiles, but the basic message is still the same—the short status quo is no longer going to be upheld unless Kim gets something in return. If he doesn't, be prepared for more. 

As always, details could change in an instant. We will update this post when more information comes available. 

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