North Korea has once again provoked its neighbors and the international community by firing a long-range ballistic missile into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan. The launch came just hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol was scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo for a summit aimed at boosting cooperation and resolving historical disputes.
The missile, which was fired from a mobile launcher near Pyongyang, flew about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) before landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The missile was believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the US mainland.
The launch was condemned by both South Korea and Japan as a grave threat to regional peace and security, as well as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from developing and testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The US also expressed its strong support for its allies and urged North Korea to refrain from further provocations.
But what does North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un hope to achieve by launching such a missile at this time? Analysts have suggested several possible motives behind his actions:
- To demonstrate his military strength and deterrence capability amid stalled nuclear talks with the US and international sanctions that have crippled his economy.
- To pressure South Korea and Japan to ease their sanctions and offer more humanitarian aid and economic cooperation.
- To drive a wedge between South Korea and Japan, who have been trying to mend their strained relations over historical issues such as wartime forced labor and sexual slavery.
- To influence public opinion in South Korea ahead of the presidential election in March 2024, where some candidates have advocated for more engagement with North Korea.
- To test the response of the new Biden administration in Washington, which has said it is open to diplomacy with North Korea but has not yet formulated a clear policy or strategy.
Whatever Kim’s intentions are, his latest missile launch has raised tensions in Northeast Asia and complicated efforts to resume dialogue on denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula. It remains to be seen how South Korea, Japan, the US, China, Russia, and other countries will react to this provocation and whether they can find a way to persuade Kim to return to negotiations.