North Korea is aiming for maximum irritation with the timing of its weapons tests

Image: KCNA/via Reuters
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That North Korea is testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons of ever increasing sophistication is alarming. That North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is routinely timing tests to occur during important meetings, events, or weekends—preferably long holiday weekends in the United States—is something else: irritating.

Obviously the alarming nature of the tests overshadows the irritating timing. But still, Kim often seems to be studying calendars and scheduling his weapons tests to maximize annoyance.

On Sunday (Sept. 3), North Korea conducted a sixth nuclear test. It said that the test was of an advanced hydrogen bomb designed to be paired with its newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The tremors from the blast suggested the bomb was about 10 times more powerful than the last nuclear test North Korea conducted about a year ago.

In the US, most Americans were enjoying a long weekend because of Labor Day (Sept. 4). North Korea also conducted a headline-grabbing weapons test—of its first ICBM—on July 4, which is Independence Day in the US. As Americans gathered over backyard barbecues, the unwelcome topic of North Korean missiles capable of reaching Alaska hung in the air. Kim described the test as a “gift” to Americans on their Independence Day.

It isn’t just the US being targeted with bad timing. Other nations, too, have been the victim. For instance, a May 14 missile launch occurred just as Chinese president Xi Jinping was about to inaugurate the Belt and Road Forum, a meeting centered around his signature One Belt, One Road (OBOR) trade initiative connecting Asia, Africa, and Middle East, and Europe. The launch occurred just hours before Xi began speaking, and, making matters worse, near China’s border with North Korea.

Another launch took place on Feb. 12, just as Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and US president Donald Trump were getting to know each other over a candlelit al-fresco dinner on the grounds of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago country club. Kim also ordered a missile launch just days before Trump hosted Xi in April at the resort.

This weekend’s test managed to kill two birds with one stone, suggesting Kim is becoming even more skilled at the timing game. It marred not only another long holiday weekend in the US, but also another important speech by Xi. The blast occurred just hours before the Chinese leader was set to give the opening words for the BRICS Summit, a major gathering in China’s southeast city of Xiamen attended by Russian president Vladimir Putin and other leaders.

The timing of the launch loomed over the weekend activities of North Korea experts often cited by the media, as well. Robert Kelly, an associate professor of international relations at Pusan National University in South Korea, was at the beach with his daughter Marion.

Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies at Monterey, California, noted during tweet sessions about the launch that he was putting his children to bed and, later, going to sleep himself.