An outmoded provocation

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An outmoded provocation

North Korea fired an SLBM from off its east coast on Saturday just three days before President-elect Yoon Seok-yeol will be sworn in as president. The Joint Chiefs of Staffs said the missile flew about 600 kilometers (373 miles) over the East Sea at an altitude of 60 kilometers. North Korea took the action three days after launching a ballistic missile at Mach 11 to an altitude of 780 kilometers. It flew 470 kilometers into the sea. The latest provocation is its 15th since January. The provocation apparently targets the start on Tuesday of the conservative Yoon administration and U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Seoul on May 21 for a summit. The North appears to be headed to its seventh nuclear test since 2006.

After developing four types of new missiles, including supersonic ones, North Korea has nearly perfected its weapons system targeting South Korea and possibly the U.S. mainland. Our military authorities believe the North has ratcheted up the level of its missile capabilities to make it more difficult to intercept them since its first launch of supersonic missiles in October. Their deployment in the battlefield could be imminent.

On April 25, North Korea announced that its nuclear weapons cannot be constrained to their original mission of deterring a war on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has resorted to its signature strategy of taming South Korea through provocations and trying to have the upper hand in negotiations with the U.S. after bragging about its nuclear abilities. Pyongyang tries to make the best of Russia and China’s opposition to reinforced sanctions on North Korea after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The North could be tempted to prepare for a Hanoi-style deal as before.

But South Korea and the U.S. know well the North’s trajectory of deceit, as seen in previous nuclear negotiations. In an interview on Saturday, President-elect Yoon said, “If showy events lead to no substantial results in denuclearizing North Korea or helping it economically, they will be of little help in denuclearization or improving inter-Korean relations.” U.S. President Biden will also underscore the importance of the alliance and pledge a strong deterrence on North Korea in the meeting with Yoon.

North Korea’s economy faces a serious crisis after blockading its borders to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In 2020, its GDP reportedly dropped by 4.5 percent, the most since the Great Famine in the 1990s. The fire in April at the Kaesong Industrial Complex likely resulted from North Korea’s rush to reactivate it on its own. If North Korea stops provocations and resumes dialogue with South Korea, the joint industrial park can be operated smoothly. If the economy collapses, the Kim Jong-un regime cannot be safe.
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