In January of the new year, North Korea test-fired seven missiles. The test launch on January 30 was an intermediate-range ballistic missile, and North Korea showed off its missile technology by releasing a photo of it looking back at Earth from 2,000 kilometers up in space. There are concerns about whether the situation on the Korean Peninsula will further escalate and whether North Korea’s missile experiments will continue.
The missiles test-fired by North Korea within a month covered a wide range of areas. They included general short-range ballistic missiles, hypersonic glide vehicles and, this time, medium-range ballistic missiles. In his 2022 New Year’s Day speech, Kim Jong-un described North Korea as facing an “important struggle for survival” and the need to initiate economic development as well as a qualitative change in its defense forces.
North Korea’s test missile launch has been seen as a message to the U.S. asking for negotiations. The U.S. has been too focused on Russia to pay attention to developments in the Korean Peninsula. Analysts say that Joe Biden’s reaction to the missile test was far worse than that of former President Donald Trump’s era. Despite Biden’s openness to negotiations with North Korea, there is little appeal to North Korea as the U.S. will not be the first to drop sanctions.
A test launch by North Korea would also spur a response from South Korea. With elections coming up in March and Kim Jong-un eyeing the next president, a missile test would be a signal to South Korea. But the more the missile test raises the stakes, the better it will be for the conservative National Power Party in opposition, whose candidate, Yoon Suk-hyeok, will harden its stance on North Korea if he wins the election.
But another interpretation is that the conservatives in Korea are not being tough on North Korea, but are choosing to be cold and ignore North Korea’s demands. Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, pointed out that North Korea’s test shot is to force the future of South Korea, whether the government is on the left or the right, to face up to the presence of North Korea.
With the Beijing Winter Olympics coming up next week, it is not expected that North Korea will disrupt the games with a test launch during this time. However, it may continue to do so after the Olympics are over. While North Korea awaits the U.S. response, it will continue to advance its tactical nuclear weapons development program, said Duyeon Kim, a senior researcher at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), adding that the development of high-tech weapons and new intercontinental ballistic missiles is part of its five-year plan.
“It doesn’t matter what the U.S. does or doesn’t do, Pyongyang is focused on achieving its nuclear milestones. After the test launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, it may only be a matter of time before an intercontinental ballistic missile is tested.