North Korea conducted its third ballistic missile firing test early Sunday, May 14, after the first two were intercepted by the US military shortly after launch. While Japan and South Korea reacted by calling it a ballistic missile, the US military noted that its attributes were “not consistent with an ICBM,” and did not therefore constitute a threat to mainland US. There was no US allusion to the threat which Pyongyang’s missile capabilities posed to Japan and South Korea. Some military observers commented that this reaction sounded like a pretext to account for the US abstaining from interception this time.
This latest missile was fired from the Kusong launch site near the Chinese border. It flew 720km for 30 minutes before exploding in the Sea of Japan between Japan and South Korea. It was the first launch since Moon Jae-in, who promotes dialogue with the North, was elected president of South Korea last Wednesday. The new president immediately called an emergency meeting of his national security council.
Just a few hours earlier, on Saturday, May 13, President Donald Trump said in a commencement speech at Liberty University, Virginia, “Next week we’ll have great news from our army and generals.” He did not elaborate.
The news from Pyongyang landed with an unpleasant thud amid Trump’s struggle with the domestic fallout from his abrupt dismissal last week of James Comey as FBI Director. While his critics don’t question the president’s entitlement to fire the FBI director, his adversaries and the media have jumped on him for the manner of the dismissal and its timing. They have gone onto questioning his fitness for handling international crises. The president tried to smooth the upset by presenting his case in television interviews, but failed to still his critics, particularly in the opposition Democratic Party.
North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un took advantage of Trump’s domestic woes to fire another missile and so demonstrate that he is not only a faithful follower of American politics but ready to brazenly exploit any signs of weakness in Washington.
His provocation was staged just days before the US President sets out on his first foreign trip since taking office. It is scheduled to take him to the Middle East and the NATO summit in Brussels. But meanwhile, North Korea and its strategic relations with Iran have been pulled back into focus as a major crisis for the Trump administration to manage..