Last night it was confirmed that the DPRK tested a new tactical guided weapon. While this particular weapon does not violate the agreement by Pyongyang to refrain from testing ICMBs and nuclear warheads during the course of the peace process, it would be impossible to argue that the test is unrelated to the public disappointment that Kim Jong-un has voiced at the lack of progress on sanctions relief in the aftermath of the largely uneventful Hanoi summit between himself and Donald Trump.
Thus, the DPRK was able to show that it continues to develop its domestic defence industry while remaining committed to the letter of the no-ICMB/no-nuclear testing agreements which have thus far provided a foundation for the ongoing peace process. At the sane time, the test is an indication that Kim Jong-un was not bluffing when he gave until the end of 2019 as a deadline for progress in the ongoing peace process before his country would examine alternative paths forward.
But most importantly was the timing. On the morning of the 18th (Washington D.C. time) it was known that the full contents of the Robert Mueller report would be made public (minus certain redactions). Because US Attorney General Barr’s previous summery of the report made it clear that the US President has been exonerated by Mueller, Kim would have known that Donald Trump’s spirits would likely be up as the entire world will now get to read first hand that the man many thought would destroy Trump has ended up vindicating much of what Trump has said over the last three years.
This is crucial for two reasons. First of all, in his recent speech, Kim indicated that while the last few months have seen a downturn in DPRK-US relations, his personal relationship with Donald Trump remains strong. Later, Trump agreed that he has a highly friendly relationship with Kim Jong-un and that he takes an optimistic view on the overall prospects of a successful peace process.
As such, Kim made it clear that yesterday’s new missile test was not intended to embarrass Trump personally. Because Kim and his colleagues (like the rest of the world) will have known that the public release of the Mueller report was coming within hours, Kim could have and self-evidently did use deductive reasoning to assume that short of a world war breaking out, all of US media would be totally fixated on reading and analysing the Mueller report throughout the 18th of April. On a slower news day, the DPRK’s missile test would have otherwise been headline news.
In this sense, Kim was able to make his point but do so in a matter made subtle due to the fact that the weapons test was going to necessarily be obscured by what for Americans is a bigger news story. The DPRK also used this opportunity to reiterate that far from having a problem with Trump, it is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who Pyongyang views as the main obstacle to progress in the peace talks.
When taken as a whole, the events of the last 24 hours have revealed Kim to be not only a master of grace under pressure but more importantly, a master of combining important messages with a subtle delivery that avoids inflaming the situation.
The stagnation within the peace process since the Hanoi summit may well have made the DPRK’s new missile test inevitable but Kim Jong-un’s understanding of America’s internal political situation has helped to minimise any potentially negative fall out from Washington within the framework of a delicate and extremely important ongoing peace process.