North Korea began this year with a record-breaking spate of missile launches, but stopped short of a truly provocative step: ending its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
Some experts say that next move could be just a matter of time.
Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, has already threatened to end the moratorium, saying at a party meeting in January that his country would consider “restarting all temporarily suspended activities” and switching to “more powerful physical means” to deter the United States. He has spent several months unveiling new weapon technology. And, according to new research, his military has been building a base strategically located for future ICBM launches.
In a report published Monday, a team of analysts at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said they had located an underground, regiment-size military base used for housing North Korean ICBMs just 15 miles from the border with China.
The location, the analysts say, was chosen to deter pre-emptive strikes from the United States against North Korea’s most important weapons as the country to continues to expand and modernize its arsenal.
“As best as can be determined from satellite imagery, informed sources, and what little data is available, the base is ready to receive an operational ICBM unit,” said the report.
In January alone, North Korea launched 11 missiles, including its Hwasong-12 intermediate ballistic missile, prompting the United States to call for additional sanctions at the United Nations.
North Korea is not expected to do any new missile tests in February, possibly out of deference to its ally China, which is hosting the Winter Olympics in Beijing this month. But observers fear the provocations will intensify once the Games are over and North Korea seeks to prod the Biden administration to resume stalled negotiations.
“North Korea will likely escalate pressure on the United States by taking a series of steps toward an ICBM test,” said Cheon Seong-whun, a former head of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded research institute in Seoul.
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