The U.S.-North Korea dynamic is returning to a potentially confrontational phase. Following an end-of-year party plenary meeting, North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un announced his country will no longer abide by its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing. Kim cited the continued U.S. imposition of unilateral sanctions on the North and sale of advanced weapons to South Korea as the cause, as well as U.S.-South Korea military exercises, which he said have been held in violation of personal promises from U.S. President Donald Trump.
In response to this alleged U.S. intransigence, Kim warned that the world "will witness a new strategic weapon" in the near future, signaling a potential long-range missile or even nuclear test. An ostensibly civilian satellite launch that showcases North Korea's ICBM-related technology is also possible. In his announcement, Kim acknowledged that U.S.-led international sanctions have restrained his country's development, emphasizing the need to increase North Korean economic self-reliance. But in retaliation, the leader insisted that his country would not sell its "dignity" and would instead resort to "shocking actual action."
Why It Matters
With some manner of a North Korean test in the cards, Pyongyang will now carefully calculate what form such tests will take and when it will carry them out. From North Korea's perspective, a return to long-range missile or nuclear tests still carries some risk. A high-profile missile test failure, for example, would erode the credibility of its claimed nuclear deterrent. And any test could provoke a U.S. military response, although Washington would hesitate to do so for fear of triggering a disastrous conflict.