North Korea and a new missile test?
Following the breakdown of talks between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump at the Hanoi summit in recent weeks, it appears that North Korea and the Kim regime is back to their usual behaviour of trying to develop nuclear missiles. This was revealed after satellite imagery showed renewed activity at a prominent missile factory and a known launch site, which is part of North Korea’s nuclear programme.
The images taken on the 22nd of February by Colorado-based company DigitalGlobe appear to show cranes, rail cars and vehicles. This array of equipment normally indicates some test or preparation activity is occurring. Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Non-proliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey said: "When you put all that together, that's really what it looks like when the North Koreans are in the process of building a rocket". It is not clear yet whether this is a normal missile or something related to North Korea’s nuclear weapon programme/ambitions.
In the recent summit in Hanoi, Kim Jong Un asked for the removal of United Nations sanctions in return for the dismantling of its Yongbyon nuclear complex north of Pyongyang, the North’s capital, as well as the Tongchang-ri facilities. Trump rejected this demand as he saw the lifting of sanctions too high a price to pay for partial moves toward denuclearisation. The Trump administration is only considering sanctions removal once North Korea dismantles and destroys all of its nuclear facilities. For North Korea, however, it seems this was displeasing; Kim walked out of talks at Hanoi just last month. President Trump has come out in response to these reports, stating: "I would be surprised, in a negative way, if he did anything that was not per our understanding. But we'll see what happens,". Trump added that he "would be very disappointed if [he] saw testing."
The events of the past month coupled with these reports show that the threat or possibility of North Korea attaining a fully functional nuclear missile is still as real as ever. Trump, in line with his other foreign policy, is playing hardline with North Korea and has taken an all or nothing stance towards their nuclear facilities. Progress could be within reach if a step by step climbdown approach is taken, however, as Kim and the North Koreans in Hanoi have shown, they are unwilling to give up all of their facilities without substantial sanction removal.
Whether or not progress can be made in the future remains to be seen as both Kim and Trump are currently unwilling to give in.