This past Saturday, during its ‘Day of the Sun’ celebration, North Korea unveiled what appeared to be missiles that analysts found surprisingly advanced in terms of both range and second-strike capacity. Although it was unclear whether the canisters actually contained the missile for which they were built, the revelation temporarily heightened tensions regarding a showdown between North Korea and the United States.
Then Pyongyang threw away its leverage.
On Sunday, North Korea conducted their expected missile test and it failed. In the words of a CNN report, “US Pacific Command said it tracked a missile launch at 5:21 p.m. ET and said the missile blew up almost immediately.”
President Trump has continued to apply pressure nonetheless — the U.S.S. Carl Vinson carrier strike group remains in the region and Vice President Pence made a surprise visit to the demilitarized zone between the North and the South on his ten-day tour of Asia, announcing “the end of strategic patience.”
Most Supreme Potentate (or whatever his title is) Kim Jong-Un and his senior officials had to respond, ultimately deciding that the correct follow up to the missile test failure was more missile tests. The BBC quoted Vice-Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol as saying North Korea will “be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.”
From a couple of standpoints, this makes sense. For one, practice makes perfect, and apparently, North Korea needs practice. It is also important to Kim to show resolve in the face of American resolve. On the other hand, it presents numerous opportunities for bad press and funny memes should there be more failed tests.
The United States has been working with China to stop the missile tests, but all options are said to be on the table. Minister Han Song-ryol has said that “if the US is reckless enough to use military means it would mean from that very day, an all-out war.”
The Pentagon does maintain that it has the ability to blast the missiles out of the sky if they pose a threat to the United States or its allies, though it may not do so if the missile is not a threat, since a non-lethal test launch could tell analysts a lot, including the range.
Of course, failed tests can tell us a lot too, such as that the Supreme Leader, in his wisdom, should mandate more attention to missile technology and less to making kindergarteners into guitar maestros.