Implications of North Korean missile launches: 6-month outlook


    In recent weeks North Korea launched several missiles of various ranges as a response to U.S. joint military drills. The actions follow a pattern of North Korea promoting its regional and global significance. However, while North Korean missile tests, in general, are nothing new, targeting Japan and South Korea sure is a trend shift from recent years’ behaviour. After the declaration as a nuclear state on September 9th, there are indications of escalating tensions in the region. In 2022 North Korean missile launches reached an all-time high.

    Further, Kim Jong-un has a long-standing relationship with China and enjoys the support of Russia in the United Nations. As Russia is struggling in Ukraine with a shortage of adequate equipment and ammunition, a window of opportunity may rise for stronger ties between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. Such a development may hence have implications for the future stability in East Asia.

    KJ1: It is highly likely that North Korea will conduct a nuclear test in the next 6 months.

    • Since the failed negotiations in 2019, North Korea continued to expand its missile capabilities. Since January 2022 the country has conducted several launches including a new hypersonic missile and its first intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 [source].
    • On February 15th satellite images showed resumed operations at the previously closed uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon [source].
    • On September 9th North Korea officially declared itself a nuclear state [source].
    • In late September North Korea launched at least 3 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) towards its Eastern sea [source‚ source]
    • On October ​​1st North Korea launched an additional 2 SRBMs [source].
    • On October 3rd North Korea launched what is believed to be a Hwasong-12 IRBM. The missile flew 4,600 kilometres and went above Japan’s territory for the first time since 2017 [source].
    • On October 9th North Korea launched 2 ballistic missiles. These were later proclaimed to be a simulated tactical nuclear strike on South Korea. [source].
    • Since September 25th North Korea is believed to have launched a total of 15 missiles [source].
    • The events follow a historical pattern of North Korean global show of force. The intensity of recent launches indicates an active move to strengthen its perception as a nuclear state.
    • On October 14th North Korea launched 1 missile and flew a group of fighter jets close to the South Korean border [source].

    KJ2: It is likely that regional US-led joint military activity will increase in the next 6 months.

    • On October 4th President Biden spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to reaffirm the U.S. commitments to Japan and South Korea [source].
    • Following the first missile launches, the U.S. and Japan conducted joint fighter jet drills on October 4th [source].
    • On October 7th South Korea and the U.S. conducted joint maritime exercises involving the U.S. carrier USS Ronald Reagan [source].
    • On October 19th South Korea and the U.S. staged joint drills transporting armoured vehicles across rivers [source].
    • On October 20th the U.S. announced an upcoming meeting with Japanese and South Korean officials in Tokyo [source].

    KJ3: Following U.S. military activity in the region, it is likely that North Korea will export arms to Russia in the next 6 months.

    • On March 2nd North Korea voted against a U.N. resolution Wednesday demanding Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine [source]. The vote highlights North Korea’s position towards the West and support of U.S. adversaries.
    • On August 15th Vladimir Putin expressed ambitions for increased “comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations” with North Korea [source].
    • On October 7th Kim Jong-un reportedly sent a birthday greeting to Vladimir Putin. He also congratulated him for “crushing the challenges and threats of the United States” [source].
    • Russia is struggling logistically in Ukraine and an equipment and ammo shortage is prevalent [source].
    • North Korea enjoys the support of Russia in the UN Security Council [source].
    • Even though denied by North Korea, the U.S. accused the country of exporting arms to Russia [source].

    Intelligence Cut-Off date: October 24th, 2022.

    Oscar Rosengren
    Oscar Rosengren
    Oscar Rosengren is a student at the Swedish Defence University in Stockholm. His main focus area is the Sahel Region and West Africa. Specific interests are asymmetric threats, mainly terrorism, covert action, and cyber threats.

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