In 2017 North Korea began a self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear and ballistic missiles. This was after it had tested its largest nuclear device and its longest-range ballistic missile but before the 2018 Singapore Summit with the United States.
In other words, Kim Jong Un had already demonstrated his country’s current abilities and was then ready to sit down at the negotiating table in the hopes of gaining concessions for pausing his aggressive actions.
The apparent détente among North Korea, South Korea and the United States even included the dismantling of missile-engine test stands and the destruction of two of the tunnel entrances at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site – but none of the country’s vital weapons infrastructure was dismantled or otherwise made irreversibly inoperable.
Beginning in 2019, the provocations began again. And now we learn, thanks to a joint effort between the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Jane’s Intelligence Review, that a new ballistic missile support facility is nearing completion. However, construction of the facility actually began in earnest all the way back in 2017 and continued throughout negotiations, summits, and DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) photo-ops.
With the failed Hanoi Summit in February 2019, North Korea watchers began to notice signs that Kim Jong Un was returning his focus to weapons development. The previously dismantled test stand at the Sohae Satellite Launch Station was being reconstructed almost contemporaneously with the summit, and efforts were soon increased on the development of submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
During the first half of 2019, signs of new submarine construction at the Sinpo Submarine Base became apparent and on October 2, a test of the Pukguksong-3 SLBM was carried out. Last month, further testing was also noted at Sinpo.
Throughout Kim Jong Un’s rule, nearly every missile base in the country has undergone some kind of expansion or modernization. And the Changjon Navy Base, just 20 kilometers from South Korean waters, also appears to have been reactivated after years of disuse (and it happens to have an underground submarine facility).
When you combine all of this with the construction of an undeclared missile facility, the fact that 31 missile tests have been carried out since 2019, and the fact that all of the fundamental pieces of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs remain intact, Kim’s intentions become very clear.
Years of “strategic patience” and “maximum pressure” have failed to halt Kim’s ambitions. The question becomes, are officials and government analysts paying attention to these very clear broadcasts of the direction Kim is going in? And if they are paying attention, are their voices being heard by those who ultimately make the decisions?