EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Pyongyang uses the buzz that accompanies its ballistic missile and nuclear tests, as well as the obscurity that conceals the extent of its infrastructure for weapons grade fissile materials production and nuclear weaponization, as tools with which to challenge Washington. Trump is not Obama, however. Kim Jong-un will need to tread carefully to avoid provoking an American preemptive strike.
On January 3, 2017, prior to his inauguration as president of the US, Donald Trump posted on Twitter: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US. It won’t happen!” With this tweet, Trump apparently drew a red line for Pyongyang.
This did not encourage North Korea to retreat. It has, in fact, conducted many ballistic missile tests since Trump’s inauguration. This behavior is a continuation of its defiance of the US on nuclear and missile issues dating back to President Clinton’s tenure and even earlier.
While Pyongyang did conduct several ballistic missile tests during Obama’s presidency between 2012 and 2016, they mostly failed. The low number of tests conducted was thus due to the immaturity of North Korea’s long-range missile technology rather than to any reluctance on the part of Kim Jong-un to challenge the Obama administration. As proof, Pyongyang severely provoked Washington by conducting three nuclear tests between 2013 and 2016, which could have had dramatic political and military implications.
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