GP Insights # 117, 3 August 2019
On 02 August 2019, North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile, the third in eight days. While South Korea assessed the missiles to be different from the previous model which flew unusually fast, the missile is said to have travelled up to 220 km.
However, statements from the White House following the launch indicated that the US President Donald Trump wasn't wary about the recent spate of retaliation from North Korea. According to popular media, he called it a "very standard" response from the north and denied any links with the North Korean supremo.
What is the background?
According to South Korea, Pyongyang had previously fired two missiles that reportedly flew to a distance of 250km and reached a height of 30km near the East sea. The North had launched its first missile on 25 July 2019 after the US President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met at the demilitarized zone in June where they had agreed to resume talks on denuclearisation. Despite pressing economic sanctions, Pyongyang had also launched a new submarine recently which is reportedly capable of carrying up to three ballistic missiles.
What does it mean?
The most apparent reason for North Korea's recent spate of missile launches is the Washington-Seoul military exercise scheduled later this month. The strong reaction comes as the North views this as a considerable threat and violation of norms signed under the joint statement by the US president and his North Korean counterpart during their meeting at Singapore the previous year. Pyongyang has further notified that the drills could affect the duo's future talks on denuclearisation. Evidently, this will affect Seoul's efforts to build strained ties with Pyongyang and further divide the Korean Peninsula.
Second, Trump's cold response to Pyongyang's actions would have been fuel to the latter's actions. The latest spate of launches could also be seen as Kim Jong un's strategy to create a sense of panic and urgency in the peninsula and eventually get the upper hand on the nuclear negotiations.
Alongside this, Japan and South Korea have deployed missile defence systems based on US military technology in the recent past. Little has this found fruit when North Korea's capabilities are steadily growing. The push could also be an effort to threaten the US by putting pressure on Japan and South Korea, its key allies in the region. Evidently, given Japan and South Korea's diplomatic tensions, North Korean actions are only straining the relation further and putting the US's efforts to bring the former together in vain.