Don’t Overreact to North Korea’s Missile Tests

At 10:30 A.M. on March 28, North Korea test-fired several short-range missiles off the western coast of the Korean Peninsula. The test was the first since North Korea test-fired KN-02 short-range surface-to-surface missiles on June 27 last year. South Korean military authorities announced that North Korea appeared to have tested the missiles to evaluate their performance as part of ordinary winter military drills that normally last until April. However, some argue that North Korea tested the missiles to keep the new South Korean government in check and to gain leverage in the nuclear talks.

It is more convincing to believe that the tests were part of North Korea’s routine military training, considering the fact that the missiles were anti-ship missiles with a range of 46 kilometers and KN-01/02 short-range missiles with a range of 100 to 120 kilometers. In fact, the country has test-fired KN-01 missiles since February 2003 and KN-02 missiles since 2004. That North Korea test-launched short-range missiles in the northeast direction from a naval ship off the western sea further suggests that some have blown the missile tests out of proportion.

However, North Korea might have conducted the missile tests for other reasons as well. Whenever North Korea takes provocative actions, it tends to pursue multiple actions simultaneously because the country has many limitations in terms of resources or strategies that can be utilized.

That the tests were conducted in March, not in May or June as was the case in the past, tells that North Korea has purposes other than just testing its missiles.

North Korea conducted the tests the day after it expelled South Korean officials from the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Consultation Office in the Kaesong Industrial Complex and after the beginning of the national assembly electoral period in South Korea.
To summarize, North Korea might have some of the following purposes in mind when it test-fired the missiles a few days ago: 1) to train its military; 2) to upgrade the performance of the missiles; 3) to test-fire missiles; 4) to intervene in the upcoming general elections of South Korea; 5) to keep in check the new South Korean government; 6) to gain leverage in the nuclear talks.

North Korea knows that it can draw worldwide attention through missile tests. Over the years, North Korea has developed a habit of resorting to provocative actions. North Korea has repeatedly tried to increase its political leverage by taking various kinds of relentless action. It seems that North Korean leaders enjoy watching the commotion they create in South Korea. In South Korea, some have already proposed taking a harder line on North Korea’s missile tests whereas others have called on the new government to take a softer stance.

North Korea wants to agitate South Korean society with provocative actions.

South Korea should not fall into the North’s trap by overreacting to the missile test. What is required of the new South Korean government is to hold steady and continue to pursue its stated policies towards North Korea.