On Wednesday, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency stated that it appears that Kim Jong Un has no plans to conduct a nuclear test during the US-South Korean military drills.
However, despite this, the US remains cautious. Officials in the US have been warning for almost a year that North Korea might resume nuclear testing, which would be seen as a serious provocation by the US, South Korea, and Japan.
In May 2022, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and other officials warned of this possibility before President Joe Biden’s trip to Asia.
During a press conference at DIA headquarters, Lieutenant General Scott Berrier told reporters that he has also been waiting for a nuclear test by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “There are a bunch of different factors that play into (Kim’s) decision calculus on that. And there are a bunch of things that we watch in terms of indications and warning. Those two haven’t aligned.” Berrier said Kim could have opted to time a nuclear test to coincide with the ongoing Freedom Shield drills by the US and South Korean militaries. The 11-day exercise is set to conclude on Thursday. “It doesn’t look like he’s going to do that,” Berrier said. “But he will uncork that at a time and place of his choosing, which is something we’ll be watching for very, very carefully.”
The North Korean Threat
The Security Council has prohibited North Korea from conducting nuclear tests or launching ballistic missiles for a long time, and it has tightened sanctions on Pyongyang to cut off funds for such activities.
Russia and China supported toughened sanctions after North Korea’s nuclear test in May 2022 but vetoed a US-led effort to impose additional UN sanctions in response to North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launches.
North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of such launches last year, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to reach the US mainland. That testing is ongoing. On Wednesday, North Korea fired several cruise missiles off its east coast, three days after firing a short-range ballistic missile into the sea.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Wednesday’s launches could have involved strategic cruise missiles. “Strategic” is typically used to describe weapons that have nuclear capability. North Korea’s last known firing of strategic cruise missiles was on 12 March, when it said it fired two from a submarine.
Berrier, when asked about the flurry of testing by North Korea, said he believed Kim was still not satisfied with his deterrent, despite the advances in his military programs in recent years. “He continues to pursue greater accuracy and lethality with his missile force,” Berrier said. He noted that North Korea’s conventional ground forces “have atrophied over time” as Kim has advanced his nuclear weapons and missile programs. “But I think it is a much more dangerous North Korea than it has been in the past,” Berrier said.