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While Biden Is Distracted North Korea is Acting Out

North Korea is always a country to make a noise when feeling ignored.

When the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) feels neglected, it acts out by launching missiles or going silent. Often, a flurry of rockets will be intended to intimidate its neighbor to the south. In the past, Pyongyang suddenly went dark on typical propaganda broadcasts to South Korea. Such was the case last week: The Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, did both. With international geopolitical and military crises at a near all-time high, Kim’s activities bedevil the US national security team spread thin.

GettyImages-1796531669 spy satellite

(Photo by Kim Jae-Hwan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Launching spy satellites, carrying out artillery barrages on its southern neighbor, and firing a ballistic missile close to Japan before the new year got started, the DPRK was off to an aggressive start. The plethora of provocative Pyongyang activities comes at a bad time for the Biden foreign policy team. There are numerous global conflicts requiring US attention, and North Korea’s portly potentate is a distraction. A distraction, unfortunately, that demands attention.

North Korea Increases Ballistic Missile Capability

With each of the DPRK’s successive ballistic missile tests, North Korea demonstrates greater range and accuracy capability. The latest missile test on Jan. 14 involved the intermediate-range type, a cause of concern for the US military. As the Associated Press reported:

“The missile is mainly designed to hit US military bases in the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, which is about 3,400 kilometers (2,110 miles) from Pyongyang, the North’s capital. With a range adjustment, the missile can also be used to attack closer targets — the US military installations in Japan’s Okinawa island, according to Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy in Seoul.”

Other reports added that the solid-fuel ballistic missile carried a hypersonic warhead. But such claims by the state-run news service in North Korea have proven to be exaggerations in the past, not entirely living up to the hype. According to UPI News, Japan’s Defense Ministry issued a statement admonishing the Kim regime, saying, “Such ballistic missile launches are in violation of relevant Security Council resolutions and are a serious matter concerning the safety of the Japanese people.” Since all such testing is against UN resolutions, it is clear the Pyongyang leadership doesn’t care.

In addition to the missile tests, the DPRK engaged in an artillery duel with South Korea earlier in January. North Korea directed its military forces to unleash more than 250 rounds, and South Korean troops responded with approximately 400 shells in the exchange. “International cooperation between the North and South has broken down in recent weeks after the Kim regime’s military fired a series of artillery barrages into the buffer zones between the countries, ostensibly for combat drills. The regime reportedly held a meeting planning the slow wind-down of civilian exchange with the southern neighbor,” Timothy Nerozzi reported for Fox News.

Silence Golden?

Going silent on your chief adversary is always an effective weapon. The DPRK has stopped broadcasting from Radio Pyongyang, its principal means of disseminating propaganda to South Korea. Considered to be how Kim’s military transmitted coded correspondence to its spies in South Korea, the broadcasts also provided a glimpse into what the DPRK was thinking, although clouded by disinformation. Going dark always raises the question of what mischief the North Koreans are pursuing.

For the Biden administration, the DPRK’s provocative antics come when the White House foreign policy gurus can least afford to spend time addressing them. Attempting to manage US support to Ukraine; working with Tel Aviv to help resolve the Israel-Hamas war; defending US merchant shipping in the Red Sea and US military bases in Syria and Iraq from Iran-backed proxies; and working with partners and allies to thwart Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea has stretched thin US national security diplomatic and military assets worldwide. Biden’s national security team – which has shown little talent for keeping several geopolitical crisis balls in the air simultaneously — has its hands full. North Korean misbehavior is just one more ball to keep suspended.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.

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