North Korea’s tests are the tip of the iceberg; read article

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New missile launches by North Korea the first days of October has again drawn attention to the North Korean leader’s intentions, Kim Jong-un. However, international concerns are not limited to Pyongyang’s actions, as the Northeast Asia region presents a volatile security picture.

Starting with North Korea itself, one can attribute at least three reasons for testing a missile on October 3, which for the first time since 2017 flew over Japan. The first motive may have been to send a political message of dissatisfaction with the Tokyo government.

Normally, North Korea launches the missiles with an upward trajectory, so they land in the waters between the country and Japan to avoid threats to the security of its neighbors. In this case, in addition to passing over Japanese territory, there was no advance notice.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (L) and Russian leader Vladimir Putin;  after the invasion of Ukraine, relations between their countries were strengthened
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (L) and Russian leader Vladimir Putin; after the invasion of Ukraine, relations between their countries were strengthened Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Reuters – 04/25/2019

One of the latest disagreements was North Korea’s claim that the Japanese government, due to sanctions linked to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, had annulled the 2002 Pyongyang Declaration, in which it agreed to make efforts to normalization of relationships.

In addition, Japan and the US regularly conduct joint military exercises, which North Korea perceives as hostile and threatens its security.

Another motivation may have been to send a message to the international community, particularly the US, of its dissatisfaction with the lack of progress in the negotiations and the search for a demonstration of advances in military capabilities during the impasse.

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This last point is linked to Kim’s statement at the parade that celebrated the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army in April, when he stated that nuclear weapons are “a symbol of national power” and that it would “strengthen and develop” his country’s nuclear and weapons program at the “highest possible” speed.

Parade celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army
Parade celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army Photograph: KCNA via Reuters – 04/26/2022

Since then, North Korea has been carrying out successive tests, signaling this quest for accelerating the improvement of its weapons and there are expectations that there will also be nuclear tests.

These facts alone would be worrying, however, at this point, at least five other factors of instability involving important actors in this region can be added:

  1. After Russia’s invasion of Ukrainethere has been a strengthening of relations between Russians and North Koreans, and there are discussions about the supply of equipment and weapons by North Korea to Russian forces;
  2. There is a deterioration in Russian-Japanese relations, as a result of Tokyo’s positions against Moscow’s actions in the war in Ukraine;
  3. Tensions are growing between Taiwan and China – a country with which North Korea also has important relations – including Chinese threats of military action;
  4. Tensions between China and the US stemming from differences between the two countries over Taiwan’s status in international relations;
  5. The new president of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeolelected in May, has shown a tougher stance on North Korea and little tolerance for the successive North Korean tests that have been carried out.

As can be seen, the military tests in Pyongyang may only be the tip of the iceberg, the factors of instability are not restricted to them, but to the set of complex geopolitical relationships in the Northeast Asian region.

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*HE IS COORDINATOR OF THE ASIAN STUDIES AND BUSINESS CENTER AT ESPM

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