As expected, North Korea took the opportunity presented by the Day of the Sun celebration to make a statement to the United States and the rest of the world. However, it did not come in the form of an underground nuclear test as many experts and analysts around the world had expected. Kim Jong Un opted to present his message through a more traditional manner at the Day of the Sun military parade in Pyongyang. It was there that North Korea placed mock-ups of its newest and most powerful missiles on display for the world to see. One was an ICBM and another a Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM). Neither system is operational yet, however, their appearance is meant to be a warning to Washington that development is underway and progressing.
Un’s choice to showcase these missiles on the world stage is a calculated move that has the potential to produce benefits in the short term. On the surface, it sends out a snapshot which indicates a firm national commitment to advancing North Korea’s long-range missile programs without revealing clues about where they are in reality. For the time being, the decision to display missiles instead of going forward with another nuclear test gives North Korea some much needed breathing space. The recent US responses to North Korea’s fiery rhetoric, and the prospect of another nuclear test have been markedly different from how the previous US administration dealt with North Korea under similar circumstances.
Kim Jong Un appears to understand that the rules have changed and therefore his strategy needs to be altered in the face of increased US resistance and China’s willingness to press Pyongyang harder on the nuclear issue. He has bought some time for himself now, but how much time that will be remains to be seen. More importantly is the manner he chooses to use that time. Logic argues that Un’s best choice right now is to lay low and not say or do anything provocative. Additional nuclear and missile tests will only play into Washington’s hands and increase the political pressure on Pyongyang to curtail its ambitions.
The US appears to be just waiting for a reason to remove North Korea’s long-range missile and nuclear programs through military force. Doing that holds the risk of touching off a larger war in the region, however, President Trump has clearly revamped the tone of US foreign policy over the last ten days and is not going to allow North Korea to pose a direct threat to the United States in any way.