For several months, the narrative in the press about the Korean peninsula has been as one of some broad agreement. After U.S. President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, which resulted in a vague agreement in which North Korea agreed to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” he stated, in the transcript of his news conference announcing the summit, “We’ll be very clear on the denuclearization. It means total and complete denuclearization, and I think this relationship will come very, very fast.”
For months after the summit, however, reports from reporters and analyst across Asia began to point to what would be one of the most important aspects of that denuclearization effort: North Korea’s remarkable restraint in building up its military capabilities, even if it was vague on what exactly that meant.
After the summit, the New York Times pointed out that unlike during the Vietnam War, “officials in South Korea and Japan have said that no increases in weaponry have been detected there.” Japan has “routinely measured North Korean ballistic missile launches using satellites and been able to determine which missiles were traveling toward Japan,” the Times reported. “And despite an uptick in missile and nuclear tests during 2017, the North did not test any of its missiles that year. Until it fired its largest-ever intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15, in September, Pyongyang had not fired a missile of greater range that flew into the North’s waters since October 2016.”
Instead, the data shows, North Korea has produced new materials that help make its weapons more effective.
These include ballistic missiles or intermediate-range missiles that are significantly more powerful than North Korea’s existing missile arsenal, a new indigenously-made submarine system that provides greater targeting range, and the construction of additional strategic bombers (read: a more robust deterrent to U.S. bombers carrying out pre-emptive strikes against North Korea).