This may well be a clue that the Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test could be coming sometime this year. While these demonstrations remain few and far between, they are notices that North Korea remains committed to a more sustainable nuclear capability. That, when combined with the country’s ballistic missile program, continues to keep both South Korea and Japan anxious about the North’s uninterrupted progress in developing weapons of mass destruction. In turn, that puts pressure on Washington to show that its nuclear guarantees remain credible and that it has some new ideas for dealing with Kim Jong-un. Kim has quickly proven himself to be as unpredictable and dangerous as his father before him.
The question that should worry Washington is, what lessons is the Kim regime taking from the Obama Administration’s weak responses to Syria and Crimea? Will Pyongyang continue to play by its own “rules” of provocation followed by tactical retreat, or is the perception of a distracted and possibly weakened America changing its calculation of what it can get away with? Does Pyongyang fear South Korean President Park Geun-hye, or does it think that her recent calls for national reconciliation are a sign of weakness?