North Korea test-fired a new tactical guided weapon, the country’s state-run media outlet announced Thursday (local time), the latest sign of a tactical chill in the love-a-thon President Trump has been touting between the two leaders. Specifics on the exact type of weapon and the nature of the launch remain unclear, but the Washington Post reports that experts believe the early descriptions of the test make it unlikely it was a ballistic missile, which would be an explicit violation of Pyongyang’s self-declared moratorium on testing, and a substantial setback to whatever peace plan President Trump hopes to muster.
North Korean state media said Kim Jong-un himself oversaw the launch, which he described as “an event of very weighty significance.” The recent breakdown of denuclearization talks and Kim’s direct involvement in the test heaped strategic symbolism on the event. Experts were cautious to read too far into North Korea’s intentions, but believed the test to be a show of growing military strength as form of negotiating tactic, without crossing the self-imposed ballistic missile red line.
In a speech last week, Kim showed frustration with the tenor of recent peace talks with the U.S. and while he said he was prepared to participate in a third summit with Trump, he cautioned he would do so only if the U.S. changed its approach. Pyongyang’s latest launch is its first public test since February talks in Hanoi broke down. While it is surely a negotiating tactic aimed at focusing the mind in Washington, the escalation threatens one of President Trump’s favorite talking points—progress, real or imagined, with North Korea. In fact, Trump’s political reliance on the North Korea détente has grown such that it could diminish his hand at the negotiating table as the personal price of walking away increases.
Is Trump already in too deep? Just earlier this week, days before the test, Trump was touting his relationship with Kim and progress with North Korea as kind of a big deal:
Maybe let’s pump the brakes on the Nobel Peace Prize daydreams, look a little less personally needy, and hold our cards a bit closer to our chest.