If North Korea’s past record is anything to go by, Pyongyang may only test a few more missiles before the end of the year, according to a U.S. researcher.
Shea Cotton, a North Korea expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California, concluded the regime conducts fewer missile tests in the final three months of the year compared to all other periods.
In fact, according to Cotton’s calculations, North Korea may test no missiles until 2018.
Cotton, who built a database that tracks Pyongyang’s military activity, calculated that for the last five years North Korea’s missile test frequency has averaged 0.8 in the fourth quarter against 4.3 in the first, 4.8 in the second and 4.2 in the third.
In a series of Twitter posts this week Cotton conceded he isn’t certain why the drop off takes place around this time and it could be a statistical anomaly. “We’ve observed it every year since (Kim Jong Un) took power (in 2012),” he wrote. “I suspect North Korea spends its resources in the fall on the harvest or other winter preparations.”
Cotton noted — he made the observation Oct. 22. — it’s “been 38 days since the last DPRK missile test. This is the longest gap in tests we’ve seen since DPRK started tests on Feb. 12 this year.” DPRK is North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “In April and May, North Korea was testing missiles at a rate of about one per week. This 38 day gap is a big slowdown from that” he added.
President Trump departs for a tour of Asia next amid heightened tensions with North Korea over its nuclear program. He will visit Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. During the 12-day trip he is likely to pressure the region’s leaders — one avenue could be by threatening to withhold valuable trade deals — to help curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. For the last few months, Trump has been exchanging inflammatory insults and rhetoric with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“The president’s engagements will strengthen the international resolve to confront the North Korean threat and ensure the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the White House said in a statement.
“He will also emphasize the importance of fair and reciprocal economic ties with America’s trade partners,” the statement added.
North Korea held its last and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3.
While in South Korea, Trump could break from recent presidential custom of visiting the demilitarized zone that has separated North and South Korea for more than 60 years. Vice President Mike Pence visited the area in April.
Cotton, the researcher, stressed that the relative dearth of Pyongyang missile activity was not linked to Trump’s foreceful diplomatic stance toward North Korea.
“The point I’m making is that this slow down probably isn’t cuz our DPRK policies are working so much as it’s (Kim Jong Un) staying on schedule,” he said.
“And also that if we want to negotiate with DPRK now is a great time to do it since they’re not going to be firing off rockets every week.”
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