Good morning, Quartz readers!
As you wake up, you may learn North Korea has launched more missiles, this time to celebrate its 69th anniversary. Then again, there has been little correlation between key anniversaries and its weapons tests; instead, Pyongyang seems more intent on spitefully ruining long weekends and international meetings.
Launch or not, rest assured Pyongyang will continue to evade sanctions, advance its weapons technology, and threaten its enemies, especially the US. (And, oh yes, sell arms.)
To many Americans, it’s puzzling that North Korea is trying to intimidate the US with its ballistic missile launches and nuclear weapons tests, including its sixth and most powerful last weekend.
They wonder: Does Kim Jong-un not realize the US would prevail in any conflict? And that any attack on the US or its allies would provoke instant retaliation, leading to his untimely end?
Kim is, of course, fully aware. The confusion stems from the belief that North Korea’s primary obsession is with the US. In fact, that honor goes to a rival closer to home: South Korea.
North Korea doesn’t want merely to enrich the ruling regime, end sanctions, and be fully accepted as a nuclear power by the international community. Its aim is to rule the Korean Peninsula, and rid it of foreign forces.
But there’s no rush. Kim, in his thirties now, expects to be in power for life. Decades after Donald Trump and other US presidents have receded into history, Kim should still be supreme leader, albeit maybe with grey hair.
For now, Kim’s problem is that the US is pledged to defend South Korea. But is that pledge iron-clad? Would the US waver if its own cities were in range of North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles? Kim hopes to put the security arrangement into doubt.
Americans, rest easy: It’s highly unlikely Kim will ever attack the US. But as for Washington’s commitment to its Asian allies, that’s an easier target. —Steve Mollman
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