North Korea’s Missile Testing During the Russia-Ukraine War

North Korea’s Missile Testing During the Russia-Ukraine War

Asia Perri
North Korean flag. Photo by Leo Altman from Pexels

In early 2022, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has taken every opportunity to test its weaponry by launching various types of missiles. It was reported that, besides short-range missiles, the government has tested what is thought to be its longest-range ballistic missile since 2017. While shorter missiles usually have a range of around 118 miles and a maximum altitude of 12 miles, the one sent at the end of January this year, allegedly reached the altitude of 1,242 miles and a range of 497 miles, which would be enough to hit the U.S. territory of Guam.

A few years ago, the North Korean government self-imposed a moratorium on nuclear and longer-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing, but its seventh round of weapons launching in the month of January might mean the end of this suspension.

INTERNATIONAL ACTION AGAINST DPRK’S ARM PROLIFERATION

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is micha-brandli-H8nYVhBORW8-unsplash-1024x683.jpg
Pyongyang, North Korea. Source: Unsplash

The Non-Proliferation Treaty is a binding commitment designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy besides furthering the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. Currently, it has 191 signatories.

Despite its signing of the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985, North Korea decided to withdraw from the NPT in 2003. Not only did the withdrawal undermine the effectiveness of the treaty, but it also proved that any member state could develop nuclear weapons if it so wished. Its continuous nuclear testing is an evident breach of major sanctions resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on North Korea. These nine resolutions were first adopted to stop the DPRK from testing.

Moreover, multilateral sanctions by the UN and unilateral ones by the United States were also imposed. However, despite the numerous resolutions drafted and the consequent sanctions, the DPRK has not ceased its nuclear activity. In fact, while states must follow the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) recommendations, the North Korean government has persisted in non-compliance.

Moreover, on February 27th, 2022, the North Korean government sent a ballistic missile from near Pyongyang’s international airport toward the sea off its East Coast. In the wake of Russian President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and consequent war (read more in our dedicated portal), which has been going on since 2014, on the 24th of February, this cannot be said to be the best move that North Korea could do in such a crucial time in history, especially when North Korea’s missile tests tend to alert its neighbors South Korea and Japan due to their nearby location.

In fact, this latest launch has been criticized by South Korea’s National Security Council which stated that “Launching a ballistic missile at a time when the world is making efforts to resolve the Ukraine war is never desirable for peace and stability in the world, the region and on the Korean Peninsula […]”. While a senior official in the Biden administration believes that the launching of missiles was probably done in order to test and perfect the weapons, rather than being seen as an offensive against its neighbors and the West, it can be said that North Korea might have a few reasons why it feels the need for testing its weapons. 

IMPLICATIONS OF NORTH KOREAN’S ‘MISSILE PERSISTENCE’

Pyongyang, North Korea in 2020. Photo by Micha Brändli on Unsplash

The implications of this conduct could be many.

For example, while the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, North Korea seems to be one of the few countries that support Russia. In fact, it was one of only five countries that voted against condemning Russia for its invasion when the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted for resolution A/ES-11/L.2. In this precarious time period when a nuclear threat has been made by Russia, the testing of nuclear arms with significant range by North Korea could mean potential cooperation with the Russian Federation against the USA and western powers.

It could be seeking economic aid from Russia and its allies in exchange for posing a significant threat to the populous East Coast cities of the USA and distracting American attention from the war in Ukraine with a threat that could be seen to be closer to home. The way in which the Biden administration has dismissed these missile tests and has returned its attention to Russia and the Ukraine has shown that the DPRK’s long list of previous nuclear threats may work against it in this regard. Finally, it can be said that North Korea is taking advantage of the distraction that Russia is creating in order to test the range of its nuclear missiles.

Moreover, the various tests have taken place prior to South Korea’s presidential election which took place in March of the current year and this might not be just a coincidence. In fact, while the Democratic Lee Jae-Myung held summits with Kim Jong-Un in the past and had sustained diplomatic ties with the North of the Korean peninsula, analysts believe that the winner of South Korea’s election bid, Yoon Suk-Yeol, might be harsher against the northern counterpart. Since Yoon Suk-Yeol is the President-elect of South Korea, there is the possibility that the North Korean government might feel escalated pressure and threat from its neighbor. As a result, the DPRK has conducted multiple missile launches in early 2022.

Despite the DPRK’s memorandum, the DPRK has resumed its nuclear testing and it has intensified its attempts at launching a long-distance missile, one of such capacity to possibly hit the United States. The future of the DPRK’s nuclear activity has always been difficult to predict due to its isolationism and, in these uncertain times, this challenge grows greater still.

However, if the American government’s lack of urgency surrounding these tests speaks to anything, it is that for now, it has bigger fish to fry.

  1. Why might North Korean nuclear testing be more important now than ever?
  2. Should nuclear threats be taken seriously?
  3. Who is to blame for this threat to international insecurity?

Suggested Readings

BBC (2022), North Korea tests new weapon ‘to improve tactical nukes

The New York Times (2022), North Korea Launches Ballistic Missile Ahead of Yoon’s Inauguration

Financial Times (2022), North Korea raises tensions with missile launch into Sea of Japan

Center for Strategic and International Studies (2022), The North Korean Missile Threat: Expert Roundtable

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