North Korea previously announced a plan to evaluate the firing of Hwasong-12 missiles to land near Guam. However, Kim Jong Un recently noted during a visit to the country’s Strategic Missile Command that North Korea would further assess the United States’ conduct before executing the launch plan. Some analysts view this as a withdrawal of the immediate threat.
However, it remains to be seen whether an extended phase of appeasement has arrived. Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, a joint military exercise held annually between the US and South Korea has begun despite North Korea’s vehement opposition. Kim Jong Un’s recent remarks may therefore be part of a deceptive strategy to lower the guard of neighboring countries before conducting a provocation. The North Korean leader visited a cemetery for the Korean People’s Army in Pyongyang a day before launching the Hwasong-14 on July 28.
Regime may not stick to original decision
Some believe that the announcement to fire on Guam was mere posturing, as the plan was broadcast to the North Korean people through Korea Central TV.
However, the leaders of China and the US warned North Korea that it should stop its provocations, and the response from the US was stronger than expected. The US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that if North Korea fires on US territory, it would be “game on.” China also seems to be pressuring North Korea privately to refrain from reckless provocations.
Kim Jong Un seems to believe that the US will be averse to a total war against the North, which will cause major loss of life, but likely also realizes that the US may actively respond in some capacity.
North Korean crisis to continue
North Korea has been continuously emphasizing that the times in which the US could threaten it with nuclear weapons are over. Although North Korea claims that it has proven its ability to fire an ICBM far enough to reach US territory with the test launch of a Hwasong-14 on July 28, re-entry capabilities must first be confirmed with another test missile. The regime may therefore elect to test launch an ICBM missile toward a certain point in the Pacific that corresponds with the distance to the US mainland from North Korea.
The South Korean government appears intent on addressing North Korea’s provocations by simultaneously pursuing denuclearization and appeasement strategies. However, it is questionable whether North Korea will accept South Korea’s offer to abandon its nuclear weapons program in exchange for peace. North Korea’s nuclear capabilities have developed remarkably since the time of the Geneva Agreed Framework in 1994, when the US and North Korea discussed the normalization of relations in return for a nuclear freeze, and the time of the 9.19 Joint Agreement in 2005. It is an urgent matter for the Moon government to prepare for a crisis on the Korean peninsula.
*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.