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Experts suggest North Korea's recent silence indicates depleted weapons inventories

2024-07-13 21:49:27      点击:073
Russia's President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in this <strong></strong>September 2023 photo. Tass-Yonhap

Russia's President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in this September 2023 photo. Tass-Yonhap

By Kwak Yeon-soo

North Korea has notably refrained from military provocations following a string of displays of force in recent weeks, prompting analysts to speculate that this relative silence could be linked to the reclusive nation's prioritization of shipments of weapons and munitions to Russia, potentially leading to shortages domestically.

At the beginning of this year, North Korea's aggressive posturing was evident through a series of provocative actions. These included test-firings of a new solid-fuel intermediate-range missile equipped with a hypersonic warhead, trials of its Haeil-5-23 underwater nuclear weapon system, and multiple rounds of cruise missile launches. The military aggression is in line with leader Kim Jong-un’s declaration that he would abandon the existential goal of reconciling with rival South Korea.

However, the North has suspended military provocations since Feb. 14 when it fired multiple cruise missiles off the eastern coastal city of Wonsan.

Yang Uk, a military expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said North Korea may be short of feasible weapons because many of them were sent to Russia.

“North Korea is using all available means to export its weapons and artillery shells because it's beneficial to them,” he said.

North Korea has been focusing on deepening military cooperation with Russia and developing internal solidarity. Kim met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia last September and allegedly discussed the exchanges of weapons — for Moscow— and military technology — for Pyongyang.

Shin Jong-woo, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, a think tank, said North Korea is looking to benefit both economically and diplomatically by providing weapons to Russia for its fight in Ukraine.

“It’s been reported that North Korea is offering a range of weapons to Russia, including artillery shells, multiple rocket launchers and short-range ballistic missiles. I believe North Korean scientists and engineers have also been dispatched to Russia, collecting operational data,” Shin said.

According to South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik, Pyongyang is estimated to have sent some 6,700 containers to Moscow apparently containing 3 million rounds of 152-millimeter shells.

North Korea has strongly responded to the annual combined military exercise between South Korea and the U.S. by staging military provocations, as it denounces the joint drill as a rehearsal for an invasion. This year's edition began Monday, but the North has yet to react with any military provocation.

Despite North Korea's recent silence lasting for weeks, experts forecast that the country is likely to resume missile tests or take other provocative actions in the near future.

“I believe it will resume military provocation during or at the end of the combined military drills. If the U.S. sends its strategic military assets to the Korean Peninsula, the North Korean regime could use it as a pretext for military provocation,” Yang said.

Shin added, “The intensity of provocative rhetoric has decreased, but North Korea may stage retaliatory actions.”

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