Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

North Korea Goes Trigger Happy With New Missile Tests

The United States is warning that a nuclear strike would be game over for Kim Jong Un.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy, and , a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
A person walks past an image of Kim Jong Un on a screen.
A person walks past an image of Kim Jong Un on a screen.
A person walks past a television screen showing a news report about the latest North Korean missile launch with images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Tokyo on Nov. 3. Richard A. Brooks/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Before we start, make sure to check in on your friends who are Phillies fans to see if they’re getting the psychological and emotional support they need after last night’s historic combined World Series no-hitter. (And you know it has to be a major event in the sporting world to pique Robbie’s interest, though our editor—and resident baseball guru—isn’t all that impressed by a combined no-hitter, no matter the stage.)

Now, back to work. Here’s what’s on tap for the day: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is missile crazy, and he’s also providing Russia with ammunition to fight Ukraine. And things are going from bad to worse in Pakistan, where the former prime minister was wounded in a shooting early Thursday.

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Before we start, make sure to check in on your friends who are Phillies fans to see if they’re getting the psychological and emotional support they need after last night’s historic combined World Series no-hitter. (And you know it has to be a major event in the sporting world to pique Robbie’s interest, though our editor—and resident baseball guru—isn’t all that impressed by a combined no-hitter, no matter the stage.)

Now, back to work. Here’s what’s on tap for the day: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is missile crazy, and he’s also providing Russia with ammunition to fight Ukraine. And things are going from bad to worse in Pakistan, where the former prime minister was wounded in a shooting early Thursday.

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.


It’s Raining Missile Tests

Oh no, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un decided the world needs to start paying attention to him again.

And if you’re sitting in Pyongyang, what better way to express the winter of your discontent at those evil imperialist “dotards” in Washington and Seoul than a massive slew of missile tests and artillery barrages?

North Korea launched at least 27 missiles since Wednesday and fired off more than 100 artillery rounds in a less-than-subtle sign of its anger at U.S.-South Korea military exercises. For those keeping score, that means North Korea has launched more missiles in the course of one day than the entirety of 2017.

Several of the launches triggered air raid sirens in a South Korean island region and in several Japanese prefectures, including a brief emergency shelter order.

The latest test launch on Thursday of an intercontinental ballistic missile flew about 470 miles before failing during its second-stage separation and falling into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The United States, Japan, and South Korea all swiftly condemned the tests as reckless and provocative.

Escalation cycle. The tests mark an alarming new escalation of tensions between Pyongyang and Washington’s allies in the region.

In response, the South Korean military shot three of its own missiles into the sea across the Northern Limit Line, a de facto sea border with North Korea, to demonstrate its own capabilities. It marks the first time since the Korean War of 1950 to 1953 that either side sent missiles across the line, as Voice of America reports.

North Korean missile tests are hardly new, as Pyongyang stubbornly pursues its nuclear weapons program in the face of smothering international sanctions and its status as an international pariah. But the latest rounds of tests have jarred both Seoul and Washington, and analysts fear it could put both sides on a tit-for-tat escalatory response.

War games. It’s clear from the country’s propaganda outlets that North Korea is none too pleased with a major new U.S.-South Korea military exercise dubbed “Vigilant Storm” (since no military exercise is complete without some awkward macho-sounding name).

Vigilant Storm involves some 240 planes carrying out around 1,600 sorties to train up on air warfare, according to the U.S. Air Force. It also follows a major South Korean military amphibious landing exercise, called Hoguk 22. Both Washington and Seoul say the exercises are defensive in nature. Pyongyang, unsurprisingly, doesn’t agree.

“If the U.S. does not want any serious developments not suited to its security interests, it should stop the useless and ineffective war exercises at once,” North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement after the exercises kicked off. “If not, it will have to totally take the blame for all the consequences.” (The United States and South Korea decided to extend the exercises on Thursday amid the launches after a meeting between their defense chiefs in Washington.)

And what would those consequences be if North Korea launched a nuclear attack against the United States or its allies? U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday that such a strike would be “unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim regime.”

Nuclear gamesmanship. The newest rounds of escalation come as both the U.S. and South Korean government predict North Korea is readying to carry out a nuclear weapons test, which would be its seventh since 2006.

A new nuclear test would lay bare how few options Washington has left in its diplomatic playbook to try and convince North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. High-level talks between former U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim ended in failure. The Biden administration has said its door remains open to talks with North Korea at any time, but so far, those overtures have been met with total radio silence.

Guessing games. Despite its vast intelligence capabilities and resources, the United States has extremely limited insight into what goes on in North Korea, meaning it’s left guessing what Kim’s endgame is with this latest cycle of escalation beyond the usual anger at joint military drills.

In short, it’s clear that North Korea wants to push the peninsula into full-blown crisis mode, but nobody’s entirely sure why. So anyway, happy Thursday, folks.


On the Button 

What should be high on your radar, if it isn’t already.

Brother, can you spare some ammo. Speaking of North Korea, the White House this week has also accused Pyongyang of covertly supplying Russia with a “significant” number of artillery shells to use in Ukraine. “Our information indicates that they’re trying to obscure the method of supply by funneling them through other countries in the Middle East and North Africa,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.

Artillery supplies from North Korea aren’t bound to change the course of the war as Russia fumbles to push back new Ukrainian offensives. But it’s another indication that Russia is scraping the bottom of the barrel to resupply its ill-equipped army.

Snip snap. The Nord Stream gas pipeline explosions in September have caused jitters in Europe about the vulnerability that undersea pipelines and communications infrastructure have to attacks, FP colleagues Amy Mackinnon and Christina Lu report.

Although investigations into the explosions by several European countries have yet to bear fruit— even though most officials and experts suspect Russia was behind the attack—NATO has already mobilized an enhanced air and naval presence near the Baltic and North Seas, and officials are vowing to “stress test” undersea critical infrastructure for any vulnerabilities.

A narrow miss. Pakistan’s controversial former prime minister, Imran Khan, was among those injured in eastern Pakistan today when a gunman opened fire on a campaign truck carrying the ex-leader and several of his supporters, leaving nine people wounded and one person dead. One of Khan’s aides characterized it as an assassination attempt.

The shooting comes as Khan has mobilized mass rallies across the country since his ouster in a parliamentary vote in April, another sign of deep instability in the nuclear-armed nation. Khan, who first made his name leading Pakistan to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, underwent emergency surgery in Lahore, Pakistan, and was seen with a bandage on his leg after the shooting.


Snapshot 

People in military uniforms hold guns in the forest.
People in military uniforms hold guns in the forest.

German soldiers take part in a NATO military training exercise dubbed “Iron Wolf” in Pabrade, Lithuania, on Oct. 27.Sean Gallup/Getty Images


Put On Your Radar

Sunday, Nov. 6: The nearly two-week United Nations climate change conference is set to begin in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Tuesday, Nov. 8: All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 34 Senate seats are up for grabs in the U.S. midterm elections.


Quote of the Week

“I am convinced that sooner or later, both the new centers of a multipolar world order and the West will have to start an equal conversation about a common future for us, and the sooner the better, of course.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at Moscow’s Valdai Discussion Club about his perception that Western dominance is eroding. Meanwhile, U.S. officials are publicly stating that Ukraine has the capability to retake the remaining Russian-occupied areas around the Dnipro River in Kherson, Ukraine. 


FP’s Most Read This Week

Iran Is Now at War With Ukraine by John Hardie and Behnam Ben Taleblu

Russia’s Recruiting Afghan Commandos by Lynne O’Donnell

Ukraine’s War Is Like World War I, Not World War II by Anatol Lieven


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

The unmasked singers. Azerbaijan is none too pleased with French President Emmanuel Macron over his latest comments on the 2020 war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. So Azerbaijan’s public TV channel found a new way to lob some diplomatic insults Macron’s way: with a personalized song insulting him—sung by a children’s choir, of course. Who said diplomacy couldn’t be fun for the whole family?

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Jack Detsch is a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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