A recently-leaked UN Security Council report states that North Korea continued to develop its missile and nuclear programmesthroughout 2019, despite UN sanctions. This report followed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s 1 January announcement that his government will no longer be bound by its self-imposed moratorium on major weapons tests. Both developments suggest that Pyongyang may resume long-range missile and nuclear testing this year (last carried out in 2017).
While Pyongyang did launch two short-range missiles towards the Sea of Japan on 1 March, and three more one week later, these tests were not as provocative as some previous launches, with the missiles remaining within North Korea’s nautical territory. These tests were likely intended as a reminder of the country’s defensive capabilities, and given that March has historically been a period in which North Korea’s missile launches take place, it is unlikely that these tests were designed to take advantage of the Covid-19 outbreak and were instead planned for some time.
While Pyongyang is likely to continue to conduct further missile tests in the coming months, there remains a low likelihood of such activity escalating to a military conflict or other physical confrontation. Rather, in addition to its missile tests, Pyongyang will continue to use hostile cyber activity as a means of expressing its frustration at international sanctions and appropriating funds to sustain its weapons programme.
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