NNorth Korea tested a medium-range missile for the first time since 2017 on Sunday, increasing the pressure on the United States. It was the most important North Korean weapons test since the launch of an ICBM in November 2017. It is also the seventh missile test this month, apparently the highest frequency since Kim Jong-un took power a good ten years ago.
According to the South Korean military, the projectile was fired in the morning in northwestern Jagang province, flew around 800 kilometers and climbed up to 2,000 kilometers before crashing into the sea off North Korea’s east coast. South Korea’s National Security Council convened a plenary session chaired by President Moon Jae-in for the first time in about a year. “If they launched an intermediate-range missile, that means North Korea is close to lifting its moratorium,” Moon said, according to a statement from the presidential office. In April 2018, Kim Jong-un announced a moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and ICBMs to pave the way for talks with the United States, which remained fruitless. Ten days ago, North Korea threatened to lift the moratorium.
Apparently, Pyongyang wants to use the United States’ distraction from the threat of war in Ukraine to advance its weapons program. It is also conceivable that Kim Jong-un wants to force American President Joe Biden back to the negotiating table. The US Indo-Pacific Command on Sunday spoke of “destabilizing actions” and reiterated the “iron-clad” determination of the United States to protect South Korea and Japan against attack. The incident presented “no immediate threat to US personnel, territory or that of our allies.” The steep trajectory suggests Pyongyang avoided reaching Japanese waters, which would have been taken as an even greater provocation.