North Korea’s missile tests in 2017

North Korea missile tests infographic

North Korea has fired 12 missiles during nine tests in 2017.

One was an intermediate-range missile, two were medium-range, eight were either short-range or medium-range and the range of one is unknown, according to various North Korea watchers.

Is the pace of missile testing speeding up?

Less than six years into his reign, Kim Jong Un has tested more missiles than his father and grandfather combined.

During the first months following the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, Pyongyang conducted a similar number of launches as it did during the same period in 2016.

However, North Korea did not conduct any missile tests during the two months from Trump’s election to his inauguration.

The political turmoil in South Korea, which led to the eventual impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, may also have factored into North Korea’s decision making, experts say.

Pyongyang has tested an average of one missile per week in the three weeks following the election of President Moon Jae-in, Park’s successor.

Why do they do the tests?

They need to conduct tests to perfect the technology.

Experts say with each test, North Korea can improve its missile technology. Some have speculated that the United States has tried to meddle with the program using cyber methods, which could halt progress.

The tests also are thought to be timed for maximum political impact — a May launch coincided with the One Belt One Road summit in Beijing, an important project for Chinese President Xi Jinping, and a February launch happened as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting US President Donald Trump.

All of this applies equally to the North’s nuclear test program, which has typically followed a similar pattern.

What does North Korea want and why?

A missile capable of reaching the United States topped with a nuclear warhead is considered to be Pyongyang’s ultimate goal.

They want it because they believe the US will eventually try to remove Kim Jong Un from power.

But would the United States try to topple the Kim regime if North Korea could respond with a nuclear attack?

Pyongyang believes Washington wouldn’t, and that’s why the country sees nuclear weapons as the key to sparing Kim Jong Un from a fate similar to that which befell Moammar Gaddafi in LIbya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

How close are they?

So far, North Korea hasn’t developed a delivery system capable of reaching beyond Asia but the country’s closest neighbors — South Korea and Japan — are vulnerable targets for Pyongyang’s existing arsenal.

Michael Hayden, the director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009, believes that should Pyongyang continue at its current pace, the country could develop an indigenous missile that can reach Seattle and carry a North Korean-built nuclear warhead before the end of Trump’s first term.

The country’s progress, however, remains somewhat unclear.

In his New Year’s address, Kim said “research and development of the cutting-edge tech weapons are actively progressing and strengthening our defense capabilities, including last stage preparation of tests for intercontinental ballistic rocket launch have been continuously succeeding.”

That particularly opaque appraisal makes it hard to telegraph exactly how far away the country is from developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), says John Delury, a professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Relations.

“To some extent this is more a missile crisis than a nuclear crisis. What the Americans are really worked up about is the ICBM capability,” he said.