Adam Mount, director of the Defense Posture Project with the Federation of American Scientists, said the emergence of a new type of short-range missile was concerning, as such devices are usually “thought of as a first-strike weapon.” “If it’s very low and very fast, that shortens warning and decision time,” he told CNN. “Those kinds of things could be useful in a retaliatory situation, but it’s even more relevant for a first strike. That’s part of why we agreed to ban (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) during the Cold War.” Thursday’s launches come as US national security adviser John Bolton — a noted hawk on North Korea — visited South Korea this week to discuss bilateral strategic issues and just a few days after the North Koreans showcased photos of their leader Kim Jong Un inspecting what appeared to be a submarine, in another attempt to signal Pyongyang’s military capabilities.
They also follow President Donald Trump’s June meeting with Kim in the demilitarized zone and his brief foray into North Korea — a high-profile visit that has failed to yield any tangible signs of diplomatic progress toward the stated US goal of denuclearization.
“Trump’s trip to Panmunjom didn’t have its desired effect,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT told CNN. “There’s no date for working level talks. Instead, they’re still testing — Kim is touring potentially nuclear capable submarines and firing” missiles. Narang said that based on initial descriptions early Thursday, at least one of the projectiles was likely a solid-fuel ballistic missile that’s been jokingly dubbed the Kimskander, a portmanteau of Kim and the Iskander missile which experts say the North Korean weapon was likely based on. Wednesday’s launch may have been North Korea’s response to the July 20 announcement that the US and South Korea will conduct joint military exercises as planned next month, in spite of Pyongyang’s argument that doing so would breach the agreement President Donald Trump made with Kim, according to Narang. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry called the drills a “rehearsal of war” in a statement published last week in the country’s state-run news agency KCNA. The statement also warned that North Korea could rethink its decision to stop testing nuclear weapons and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) if the drills were to go ahead. “Our discontinuation of the nuclear and ICBM tests and the US suspension of joint military exercises are, to all its intents and purposes, commitments made to improve bilateral relations. They are not a legal document inscribed on a paper,” North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said.
The US and South Korea regularly conduct joint military drills, but they suspended or scaled back a number of recent exercises part of an effort to ease tensions with Pyongyang.
‘Tit for tat’
Speaking of the most recent launches, Narang said they were “no more provocative than before,” referring to similar tests Pyongyang conducted in May, “but still tit for tat.”
“Kim clearly believes that’s a violation of a personal commitment Trump made to him in Singapore,” where the US President said the US would drop joint military exercises with South Korea, he told CNN, adding that if the exercises continue, “all bets are off.””They are clearly signaling that this is a response or a foreshadowing of what might come,” Narang added.