North Korea announced it had conducted another “crucial test” at a satellite launch station in Tongchang-ri on Friday. It was not forthcoming about the test, releasing no further details than it lasted for seven minutes from 11:41 p.m. It is believed to be a second stage rocket engine test, which is the second Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) rocket-engine test just in six days following the test on the first stage engine. Some imagery also suggests that Pyongyang is preparing to launch a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in Nampo, North Korea.
North Korea is increasing its rhetoric by conducting unspecified tests. This time, all it revealed was it carried out a seven-minute test to help bolster the country's nuclear deterrent, implying that it was a test on the second stage ICBM engine test. Such ambiguity is purposefully used to engage in brinkmanship, observing the reactions before threatening once again to cross the “red line.”
While heightening tensions, the North never forgets to send out the message that it is still willing to make a last-minute deal. It says the United States should refrain from upsetting it if it were to have a peaceful December, which implies that it is willing to ease tensions depending on how Washington responds. Such remarks are believed to target Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, who arrived in Seoul on Sunday. Hoping that there will be a change in the U.S. attitude with Biegun becoming the Deputy Secretary of State, the Stalinist country is taking a two-pronged approach.
The United States will likely remain unaffected by the North’s rhetoric. It may make an unexpected offer, but the offer will never be lifting sanctions. Washington is monitoring Pyongyang more closely and is more actively engaging in talks with the United Nations on North Korea sanctions. It will cooperate with neighboring countries to pressure the North on the economic and military fronts. It has the power to suffocate North Korea and will explore other ways to do it if Pyongyang continues to ratchet up its rhetoric.
North Korea mentioned “balance of power” on Saturday, bluffing that it has built enormous power. The balance of power refers to the order set by world powers that have real power in international politics. It is not something that can be achieved by a regime with a nuclear weapon that cannot feed its own people. North Korea should know that such bluff can destroy itself and meet Biegun, North Korea’s last chance before its year-end deadline.