To the casual observer, North Korea must appear to have an unlimited supply of ballistic missiles and rocket fuel. For the third time in a month, North Korea has conducted a ballistic missile test. This time it was with a pair of No Dong IRBMs. The first one exploded shortly after launch while the second missile landed in the Sea of Japan roughly 150 miles west of the Japanese coast inside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone. In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called it an “unforgivable act of aggression that represents a grave threat to the security of Japan.”
On 19 July, 2016 North Korea test fired three SCUD type shorter range ballistic missiles and earlier in the month a sub-launched ballistic missile was test fired but failed early on in flight. North Korea’s missile tests generally come as a counteraction to military or diplomatic moves by the United States, South Korea or Japan that Pyongyang regards as distasteful. The July tests were presumably made in response to South Korea’s decision to deploy the US THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Air Defense) system.
The most recent test firings come a month after Kim Jong Un was placed on a list of ‘sanctioned individuals’ by the US. North Korea stated that the action ‘crossed a red line’ and was essentially a declaration of war.
The latest posturing by North Korea leads us to wonder about the internal pressures confronting the Kim Jong Un regime. The missile tests, coupled with the increasing bellicose tone coming from Pyongyang may suggest that Jong Un fears his hold on power is becoming less secure. Lashing out against the United States and other enemies in the region to divert domestic attention away from the deteriorating situation inside of the DPRK has been a tried and true gimmick for North Korean leadership for decades. How effective it is at the present time cannot be gauged accurately.
Suffice to say, the situation in North Korea requires close observation in the coming weeks. Between North Korea and China’s latest moves with regards to the South China Sea, the Western Pacific is becoming a very tense place.