North Korean soldiers keep watch where a North Korean defector crossed the border on November 13, at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone, in South Korea, on November 27.

North Korean soldiers keep watch where a North Korean defector crossed the border on November 13, at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone, in South Korea, on November 27. Lee Jin-man/AP

North Korea Ends Its Pause in Missile Tests

Along with speculation it was signaling a desire for talks

On Tuesday in the U.S.—Wednesday in Asia—the world’s two-and-a-half month respite from North Korean provocations came to an end. Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, reported that the North had fired a ballistic missile heading east; NHK, the Japanese broadcaster, said this one, like several before it, may have landed in the waters off Japan. The Pentagon’s initial assessment was that the missile was an ICBM, the type of long-range missile that could reach the United States, which the North has tested twice before.

The launch also ended speculation that the North was observing a lull in testing as a show of good faith to the United States, in order to pursue talks on the communist state’s missile and nuclear programs. On October 30, America’s special envoy for North Korea policy declared that if the North ceased testing for 60 days, it might be a sign the country was open to diplomacy. Sixty days came and went, but as Van Jackson wrote at The Atlantic, there were explanations besides a desire to make peace, including the harvest season, and the military’s training schedule. Regardless, the resumption of testing means that this year alone North Korea has tested at least 20 missiles, according to the database maintained by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. The figure for 2016 was 24; it was 15 in 2015.

The launch also comes a week after President Trump re-added North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism; the country had been removed from it over a decade ago. That designation, and its accompanying sanctions, was in line with the “maximum pressure, maximum engagement” strategy the Trump administration has articulated for dealing with North Korea—though at times it appears, publicly at least, that only the first part of the policy is in effect. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other national-security officials have said, nevertheless, that they are optimistic about the possibility of dialogue with the North on its missile and nuclear programs. Despite this, though, there is currently little communication between the two countries. Tillerson said in September the U.S. had “three channels open to Pyongyang”—for communication if not negotiation—but Trump himself has publicly undercut them, saying Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to conduct diplomacy.

In any case, those who favor tough action against North Korea will probably see the latest missile test as a vindication of Trump’s position. It’s not clear though whether tough action can actually bring about a change in North Korea’s behavior. This is, after all, one of the world’s most heavily sanctioned countries; several countries have recently expelled the North Korean envoys from their capitals, as part of a coordinated international diplomatic effort; and the North’s chief ally, China, is getting impatient with its actions. North Korea is, in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s words, willing to eat grass in order to possess nuclear weapons.

Experts say it already possesses enough fissile material for at least 20 such weapons. Its intercontinental ballistic missiles are already theoretically capable of reaching the contiguous United States, and the country is believed to be mere months away from fitting a miniaturized nuclear warhead onto such a missile.

So where does this end? Many U.S. experts who favor a tough response to the North say that North Korea’s intent is to compel the United States to abandon its alliance with South Korea, and to force reunification of the peninsula on its own terms. But China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, sees it differently. As I reported today, Chinese experts say North Korea already possesses the nuclear material required to achieve those goals, and its continued provocations are a way to seek security guarantees. This fundamental difference of opinion between the United States and China, which says it understands North Korea’s worldview, is a major obstacle in any resolution of the current crisis. (The U.S. has also pressed China to do more to cut off North Korea’s economic lifeline, and Beijing says it will comply up to a point: It doesn’t want to destabilize North Korea to the point the regime collapses; doesn’t want chaos in its backyard; and doesn’t want a pro-U.S. country with U.S. troops at its border.)

The test will almost certainly end the optimistic statements coming from U.S. officials in recent days in response to the lull in testing. There were Tillerson’s remarks in September about channels. This month James Mattis, the U.S. secretary of defense, said the pause could lead to direct talks. But Trump, responding the test on Tuesday, had another message. “We’ll take care of it,” he said.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.