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Can North Korea’s Nuclear Tests Achieve Their Goal?

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North Korean state officials are making harsh statements against the exercises carried out in the region in partnership with the United States (US), South Korea, and Japan, and they warn that these exercises will be answered. This attitude of North Korea is not only in words but also in the field as the activities carried out by the Pyongyang administration become more serious. North Korea conducted more than twenty missile tests on October 2, 2022.[1] These tests include a short-range missile that crashed near South Korea, as well as a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile that alarmed Japan.

All these tests made 2022 the year when North Korea conducted the most ballistic missile tests.[2] This situation brings to mind the questions of “Can North Korea achieve its goals with its current trials?” and “How far can it go to achieve its goals?”

At this point, it can be said that North Korea’s strategy is to attract the attention of the US, to ease the sanctions imposed on it, to gain some privileges, and to have the opportunity to negotiate recognition. But the US is currently busy with the upcoming midterm elections. In its foreign policy, it is focused on the Ukraine War and the global power struggle with China. In this case, it can be predicted that the Pyongyang Government will further increase its current activities to get the desired result. This means that intercontinental long-range ballistic missiles will be used more frequently in future tests.

In addition to all this, each new level that North Korea will raise its tests will raise both global security concerns and regional threats and risks to a higher level. This situation may lead to stronger sanction pressure within the United Nations (UN). However, due to the tension between Russia and China in the West, it is difficult to form unity within the UN Security Council (UNSC). Fifteen states that are members of the UNSC could not take a common stance in condemning North Korea’s latest attempts, and China and Russia refused to condemn North Korea.[3] However, the Moscow administration cited the US as responsible for the tension between Pyongyang and Washington at the meeting.[4]

At the same time, North Korea’s new nuclear law allows for the preventive use of nuclear weapons in a variety of situations. One of the main reasons underlying this law is that the Pyongyang Government sees the exercises held in the region in partnership with South Korea, Japan, and the US as a rehearsal for the occupation.

However, it is not easy for North Korea to attract the attention of the US to the point of returning to the negotiating table. Therefore, Pyongyang, which is thought to make a move to increase missile tests on the occasion of the midterm elections, may try to put itself higher on the Washington administration’s priority list.

On the other hand, Russia cannot achieve the desired results in the Ukraine War. This creates an ambiguous situation for North Korea. First of all, the preoccupation with the Ukrainian War and the nuclear threats of Russian President Vladimir Putin in American foreign policy makes it difficult for Pyongyang’s missile tests to attract the attention of the US. In other words, the distraction created by the Ukraine War in the US creates a disadvantageous situation for North Korea.

On the other hand, if North Korea’s nuclear tests cause some effects on the US, Moscow can also benefit from the developments. Thus, by gaining an advantageous position against the West, Russia can take more serious steps to undermine the hegemony and power of the West. The realization of this possibility may also bring some opportunities for Pyongyang in terms of opposition to Western hegemony.

This ambivalent situation for North Korea over the Ukraine War similarly manifests itself in terms of Chinese foreign policy and Taiwan issues. The possibility the President of China Xi Jinping, who is authorized for a third term, following a more proactive foreign policy and increasing the pressure on Taiwan, may work against the Pyongyang Government by making it difficult for North Korea to attract the attention of the US.

In addition, the distraction that North Korea will create for the US may strengthen China’s hand in foreign policy production and Taiwan, allowing it to challenge the West more and shake the Western alliance. Of course, the realization of this situation will strengthen the hand of North Korea.

The fact that both Russia and China can more powerfully oppose the hegemony of the US, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the West, so North Korea, with which they have already converged in terms of foreign policy interests over the “common enemy”, can also achieve their nuclear targets without encountering global reactions, sanctions, and military threats. Also, that situation will enable them to perform their experiments more comfortably.

As a result, it can be said that one of the most important reasons why the trials have become so frequent is that North Korea aims to gain various gains by attracting the attention of the US and the Western alliance. However, due to the global struggle with China and the Ukraine War, it seems difficult for the current trials to attract the attention of the US. However, the distraction that these trials will create in the US may also serve the interests of Russia and China, and indirectly North Korea.


[1] “North Korea Keeps up Its Missile Barrage With Launch of ICBM”, AP News, https://apnews.com/article/seoul-south-korea-north-joint-chiefs-of-staff-7dba751749432b5bc6f60eb492bc7a2f, (Date of Accession: 05.11.2022).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Us Confronts China, Russia at UN over N. Korean Missile Launches”, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/5/us-confronts-china-russia-at-un-over-n-korean-missile-launches, (Date of Accession: 05.11.2022).

[4] Ibid.

Zeki Talustan GÜLTEN
Zeki Talustan Gülten, 2021 yılında Yalova Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden “Amerikan Dış Politikası” başlıklı bitirme teziyle mezun olmuştur. Halihazırda Marmara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda Tezli Yüksek Lisans öğrenimine devam eden Gülten, lisans eğitimi esnasında Erasmus+ programı çerçevesinde Lodz Üniversitesi Uluslararası ve Politik Çalışmalar Fakültesi’nde bir dönem boyunca öğrenci olarak bulunmuştur. ANKASAM’ın çalışmalarına katkıda bulunan Gülten’in başlıca ilgi alanları; Amerikan Dış Politikası, Asya-Pasifik ve Uluslararası Hukuk’tur. Gülten, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.