Why is North Korea increasing its missile launches?

The Pyongyang regime wants to show its power at the local level while sending a very clear message beyond its borders.

Pyongyang is at it again. This Thursday, North Korea launched two new ballistic missiles into the Sea of ​​​​Japan, two days after launching a Hwasong-12 missile that had flown over the Japanese island and traveled about 4,600 km, probably the longest distance ever reached by Pyongyang. in their trials.

This sixth launch in less than two weeks is “absolutely unacceptable”, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reacted immediately. For its part, North Korea considered that these shots constitute “the just retaliatory measures of the Korean People’s Army against the joint military maneuvers between South Korea and the United States that are causing an escalation of military tensions on the Korean peninsula” .

Dynamics of judgments and message.

North Korea has stepped up its fire this year and launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time since 2017. Contacted by BFMTV.com, Antoine Bondaz, director of the Korea program at the Foundation for Strategic Research and professor at Sciences Po , confirms that there is “a dynamic” of trials in the North.

“What North Korea is doing is developing and increasing its capabilities that are now considered credible. This year is already a record with 30 tests. When he was in power, Kim Jong-il had conducted 15 such tests in 15 years. Since he came to power ten years ago, Kim Jong-un has done 170”, he reveals.

According to the expert, these new North Korean tests are a way for the Pyongyang regime to reaffirm its position in the region. “It shows that they can deliver penetration and precision strikes and, above all, it leaves South Korea a little less room to manoeuvre,” he adds, stressing that the underlying message was clear.

“This is a message sent to South Korea and the US forces stationed there, but also directly to the United States since the missiles used can theoretically hit the island of Guam,” adds Antoine Bondaz.

This island in the Pacific Ocean is home to a strategic US naval base in the region.

What reaction?

After Tuesday’s test, the United States and Joe Biden promised, after consulting with Japan and South Korea, a “robust” response to the shot. South Korean and US warplanes conducted precision strike drills on Tuesday, with two South Korean F-15K fighter jets dropping bombs on a virtual target in the Yellow Sea.

To this response, Antoine Bondaz argues that South Korea’s neighbor actually has “fewer and fewer levers” to oppose the North.

“There are already many economic sanctions and North Korea is already isolated as always with the Covid. The South has three levers, to also increase its capabilities, adapt its doctrine or strengthen its alliances”, adds the specialist in the region.

This week, eight Japanese and four other American fighter jets conducted joint exercises in the western Kyushu region, according to the Japanese military staff. These forces have shown that “they are ready and have demonstrated at home and abroad the firm determination of Japan and the United States to deal with the situation,” describes the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul.

Fear of nuclear escalation?

North Korea, which is subject to UN sanctions over its weapons programmes, adopted a new doctrine in September that makes its status as a nuclear power “irreversible”.

“North Korea always starts with a low-level provocation and gradually raises the level to attract global media attention,” said Go Myong-hyun, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “By launching the missile over Japan, they show that their nuclear threat is not just aimed at South Korea.”

South Korean and US officials have been warning for months that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is preparing to conduct another nuclear test. It could take place after the next Chinese Communist Party congress that begins on October 16, several senior officials at the US Asia-Pacific Command said this weekend.

Unlike other nuclear powers, Pyongyang does not see this type of weaponry as a deterrent destined never to be used. Pyongyang has tested atomic bombs six times since 2006. The last and most powerful test was in 2017, with an estimated yield of 250 kilotons.

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