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.
- Since Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” policies in 2011 and the re-establishment of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in 2017, including both the U.S. and Japan, the countries have increased their military ties.
- 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.
- Previously Russia did not need military support from North Korea, and North Korea did not show a desire for a Russian partnership. However, the conditions changed.
- 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.