What Causes the Increase in North Korea’s Nuclear Tests?

Similar Posts

This post is also available in: Türkçe Русский

After enacting the law declaring North Korea as a nuclear power on September 9, 2022,[1] Pyongyang conducted a total of 6 nuclear missile tests within two weeks.[2] Some moves have also been made by the United States of America (US) against the growing nuclear threats created by the Pyongyang administration. On September 25, 2022, South Korea declared that North Korea was launching nuclear missiles into the seas, and then on September 29, 2022,[3] The US Vice President Kamala Harris made a visit to the DMZ which is the demilitarized zone on the North Korea-South Korea border.[4] Aim of this visit was to show the Washington administration’s support for the Seoul Government. Meanwhile, the actions of the US, which started to deploy weapons to South Korea, accelerated North Korea’s ballistic missile tests with nuclear warheads aside from creating deterrence.[5]

After all these events, on October 4, 2022, North Korea launched a test nuclear missile at Japan,[6] causing the whole region to be concerned. For this reason, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a telephone conversation with Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Korea Park Jin and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Yoshimasa Hayashi.[7]

The US President Joe Biden had a telephone conversation with Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida regarding the steps to be taken.[8] After the meeting, the US and Japan started to organize joint exercises.[9] In short, North Korea has created a regional “security dilemma” due to its nuclear tests. But it should be noted that; the increase in the actions of the Pyongyang administration is not a coincidence.

First of all, this development is important in that the Pyongyang administration demonstrates to other states the development of its own military technology, offensive capacity and nuclear weapons. At this point, it can be read that the military capacity of North Korea has reached the highest level. But the issue is not just that. There are various reasons why Pyongyang chose such a timing.

The first of the reasons mentioned is that the actions taken against North Korea, which are supposed to be deterrent, actually have a provocative effect on Pyongyang. Because the fact that North Korea’s nuclear tests took place after the US and South Korea resumed large-scale naval exercises and Harris’ visit to the DMZ confirms this. In other words, the activities carried out by the USA and its ally’s anger North Korea and make it difficult for Pyongyang to take a step back.

Another reason is the political instability on a global scale. As it is known, the Ukrainian War and the energy crisis are on the agenda of the international public opinion. At the same time, Taiwan-based developments still maintain their importance. North Korea, on the other hand, takes advantage of this instability and thinks that the international community is busy enough. Therefore, Pyongyang believes that a new sanctions package cannot be imposed on it.

In addition to all these, the Ukraine War is an issue that preoccupies the Washington administration. But the war was not only an issue on which the US should direct its energy; it also led to the development of ties between Pyongyang and Moscow. Indeed, on October 7, 2022, Kim Jong Un celebrated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s birthday and congratulated the Russian leader for “crushing the challenges and threats posed by the US.”[10] In addition, Kim Jong Un stated that the cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow is “strengthened like never before.”[11] At this point, it can be said that the Pyongyang administration has benefited from Moscow’s increasing need for allies due to isolation. The timing of missile drills should also be read from this perspective.

At the same time, just as with the Ukrainian War, the crisis over Taiwan also enabled North Korea to take advantage of the growing tension between Washington and Beijing. Because the exercises organized by the US with South Korea and Japan are basically a part of China’s containment policy. The fact that the Washington administration stated that the reason for its activities in the region is the actions of North Korea can be interpreted as the make-up of the main target. Because the current stance of North Korea provides a legitimate basis for the US presence in the region. For this reason, the activities of the US in the region, contrary to popular belief; it encourages North Korea.

Finally, it should be underlined that; there is currently no strong sense of unity in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which imposed heavy sanctions on North Korea in 2017. Indeed, Russia is at war. China, on the other hand, is dragged into a defensive position at the UNSC over human rights reports. In such an environment, it is difficult for the UNSC to take new sanctions against North Korea. For Pyongyang, this means a favorable timing for nuclear missile tests.

As a result, Russia’s increasing need for allies, the lack of unity within the UNSC to impose sanctions on North Korea, and the US activities in the region provoking Pyongyang have led North Korea to think that the right time has come for nuclear tests. This indicates that the security dilemma in the region will deepen.

[1] “Much Ado About Nothing: North Korea’s New Nuclear Law”, The Diplomat,, (Date of Accession: 13.09.2022).

[2] “North Korea Carries Outh Sixth Missile Launch in Two Weeks”, BBC,, (Date of Accession: 06.10.2022).

[3] “South Kore Says North Korea Test-Fired Missile toward Sea”, AP News,, (Date of Accession: 25.09.2022).

[4] “Kamala Harris Visits DMZ after North Korea Missile Launch”, Al Jazeera,, (Date of Accession: 29.09.2022).

[5] “N.Korea Flies Warplanes Near S.Korea After Missile Launches”, AP News,, (Date of Accession: 06.10.2022).

[6] “North Kore Sends Missile Soaring Over Japan in Escalation”, AP News,, (Date of Accession: 04.10.2022).

[7] “Blinken Holds Calls with South Korea, Japan to Condemn North Kore’s Missile Launch”, Reuters,, (Date of Accession: 04.10.2022).

[8] “Biden Consults Japan PM Kishida After N. Korea Missile Test”, AP News,, (Date of Accession: 04.10.2022).

[9] “U.S., Japanese Fighter Jets Carry Out Drills After North Korea Missile Launch”, Reuters,, (Date of Accession: 04.10.2022).

[10] “Explainer: Putin and North Korea’s Kim Forge Closer Ties Amid Shared Isolation”, Reuters,, (Date of Accession: 07.10.2022).

[11] North Korea Touts “Strengthened” Russia Cooperation in Message to Putin, Kyodo News,, (Date of Accession: 07.10.2022).

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 ve 2023 yılında da Anadolu Üniversitesi Açık Öğretim Fakültesi Dış Ticaret bölümünden 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’da Asya-Pasifik Araştırma Asistanı olarak çalışan Gülten’in başlıca ilgi alanları; Amerikan Dış Politikası, Asya-Pasifik ve Uluslararası Hukuk’tur. Gülten, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.