South Korean officials have made public their analysis of Saturday’s activity at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in North Korea, indicating that the reason was to test a new long-range, liquid fuel engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile – and that the test was successful.
Satellite imagery provided details of a large energy release. Other indicators available to the government remain unknown.
The AP reported at the time that the effort was likely a test of a rocket engine of some sort.
The testing of such engines by North Korea is banned by the United Nations and would be a direct repudiation of President Trump’s long-standing effort to present Kim Jong Un as a potential denuclearized partner of the United States.
The next phase of testing for North Korea, if it wishes to cement itself as a long-range direct threat to the United States, will be a test launch of an ICBM, possibly disguised as an effort at spaceflight.
North Korea recently suggested that it would be sending the U.S. a “Christmas gift”. As they have previously referred to missile launches as such, it is plausible they may mean to do so again.
There was no good option available for President Trump regarding North Korea. His decision to elevate them on the world stage precipitated their rapid development as a power without forcing any concessions, however, and may have been the worst choice among the bad options offered.