North Korea is citing Donald Trump to justify its latest missile tests

One of North Korea’s new missiles, in a photo released Aug. 11, 2019.
One of North Korea’s new missiles, in a photo released Aug. 11, 2019.
Image: KCNA via Reuters
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North Korea fired off a new type of short-range missile yesterday (Aug. 10), the latest in a series of weapons tests rattling neighbors in recent weeks. Today, a senior North Korean diplomat cited statements from Donald Trump in justifying the launch of the missiles, which mark significant advances and present a serious threat to South Korea, Japan, and US forces in the region.

“Even the US president made a remark which in effect recognizes the self-defensive rights of a sovereign state, saying that it is a small missile test which a lot of countries do,” said Kwon Jong Gun, director-general for American affairs at the foreign ministry, in a statement carried by KCNA.

Earlier this month, Trump played down North Korea’s latest weapons tests, telling reporters, “I have no problem…These are short-range missiles. We never discussed that. We discussed nuclear. What we talked about is nuclear. Those are short-range missiles. Sure, and a lot of other countries test that kind of missile also.”

Analysts says the new missile and rocket systems show a marked improvement, noting the use of solid fuel and mobile launchers make them easier to hide, transport, prepare, and fire.

Meanwhile Trump, like North Korea, has criticized this month’s US-South Korea military drills. North Korea says the missile tests are in response to the exercises, which it considers a dress rehearsal for invasion. Trump, for his part, dissed the joint drills in a tweet yesterday while praising a letter sent to him by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: “It was a long letter, much of it complaining about the ridiculous and expensive exercises.”

The Trump administration has pressured South Korea to pay the US government more for military defense provided against North Korea. On Aug. 7, Trump tweeted that Seoul had agreed to “substantially” increase its share of the cost.

Trump has been widely criticized for cozying up with US adversaries while alienating long-time allies. Last year critics lambasted him for saying he and Kim “fell in love.”

That might be considered relationship building by the former businessman. Whether it pays off remains to be seen—history suggests it won’t. In the meantime, North Korea continues to enhance its offensive capabilities.