North Korea Fires Short-Range Missiles, Its 2nd Test in Less Than a Week

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, the North’s second weapons test in less than a week.

The missiles were launched from near Wonsan, a coastal town east of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, the South Korean military said in a brief statement. They flew 155 miles to the northeast, reaching a height of 18 miles, before splashing into the sea, it said.

South Korean officials declined to offer further details, pending analysis of flight and other data together with their United States allies.

“North Korea’s recent series of missile tests does not help efforts to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and we urge the North to stop this type of act,” the South Korean military said.

That was the first time South Korea had formally accused the North of testing a ballistic missile since November 2017, when the North launched the Hwasong-15, an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland United States. United Nations resolutions forbid North Korea to launch ballistic missiles of any kind.

Japan said the North Korean projectiles launched Wednesday had not landed in its territorial waters, indicating that they were short-range weapons.

North Korea’s resumption of weapons testing has come amid stalled efforts to resume talks with the United States on ending its nuclear weapons program.

President Trump met with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in the Demilitarized Zone on June 30, and both leaders agreed to resume staff-level dialogue between their governments. But such talks have yet to take place.

Weeks before Mr. Kim met with Mr. Trump in Singapore in June last year in the first-ever summit meeting between North Korea and the United States, Mr. Kim announced a moratorium on his country’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests. Mr. Trump has since repeatedly touted the absence of such tests as his biggest diplomatic achievement in dealing with Mr. Kim.

With North Korea’s latest tests involving short-range missiles, Mr. Kim did not abandon his moratorium. But they violated the United Nations Security Council resolutions that bar the country from developing or testing ballistic missile technologies, South Korean officials said.

Mr. Trump downplayed the significance of the North’s recent missile tests last Thursday, calling them “smaller ones” and repeating that he was still getting along “very well” with Mr. Kim.

“My relationship with Kim Jong-un is a very good one, as I’m sure you’ve seen,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Tuesday. “I like him; he likes me. We’ll see what happens.”

The Singapore meeting ended with a vague agreement in which Mr. Trump committed to building new relations and providing security guarantees for North Korea in return for Mr. Kim’s agreement to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

But when the leaders met again in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, they failed to agree on how to implement their earlier deal.

The Hanoi talks collapsed when Mr. Kim demanded that Washington lift all major sanctions against his country in return for the dismantling of its nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. Mr. Trump insisted on a more comprehensive breaking up of the North’s nuclear programs, including its nuclear weapons and missiles.

Mr. Kim has since said he would give Washington until the end of the year to return to the negotiating table with “new calculations.”

“This type of saber rattling is not threatening, but rather is intended to get the attention of North Korea’s more powerful neighbors,” Daniel L. Davis, a senior fellow with the Defense Priorities research institute in Washington, said by email about the Wednesday tests. “Kim Jong-un wants to negotiate and signal his ability to take actions the U.S. and others don’t like in an effort to speed up diplomacy.

“There’s an opening to negotiate for freezes and potentially rollbacks in exchange for limited sanctions relief,” Mr. Davis added. “But unless Washington is willing to make such trade-offs and normalize relations, expect Kim to continue developing weapons and testing them.

Why Xi Jinping Is Courting Kim Jong-un

It’s not about nuclear weapons, leverage with President Trump or the trade war.

.. Such vagueness should come as no surprise since obtaining a compromise from Mr. Kim never was the purpose of Mr. Xi’s trip. China’s president did not travel to North Korea to prove to Mr. Trump that only the Chinese government can broker a deal with Mr. Kim or to gain bargaining power in the trade dispute. In keeping with the long, tangled history of Chinese-North Korean relations, Mr. Xi traveled to Pyongyang to lure back into China’s fold what he sees as a difficult and wayward subordinate.

China may be North Korea’s largest trade partner and a formal defense-treaty ally, but tension and distrust have characterized relations between the two countries for decades. Strains reappeared in recent years after Mr. Kim tested nuclear weaponsand seemed to pull back from China while repositioning North Korea closer to the United States and South Korea. China, for its part, has gone along with the latest punishing international sanctions against North Korea.

Kim Il-sung resented the asymmetry and as a hedge maintained ties to the Soviet Union after the Sino-Soviet split in the late 1950s: He needed Mao, but didn’t think Mao could be trusted. Sure enough, come 1972, China welcomed President Richard Nixon in Beijing and began rapprochement with the United States, while North Korea remained violently opposed to the presence of the several tens of thousands of American forces stationed in South Korea.

After Mao’s death in 1976, the patterns of Chinese-North Korean diplomacy, like so much to do with China, changed. Mao’s successors were more interested in developing China’s economy than in big-power politics. In 1978, the leaders Hua Guofeng and then Deng Xiaoping made North Korea their first overseas destination. But this flurry of diplomacy belied the emergence of new tensions in the alliance: The two countries’ political systems and approaches to economics and foreign affairs began to diverge.

By the mid-1980s, China was barreling down the path of “reform and opening-up,” as the official line went, and it wanted a stable international order, thinking that this would be more conducive to its own growth. But Kim Il-sung saw China’s burgeoning links to capitalist economies as a betrayal of the socialist trading bloc, and his government is suspected of having ordered assassination attempts and terrorist attacks abroad.

Then came what the North Korean government considered to be an unforgivable act of treachery: In 1992, as Communist regimes were collapsing across Eurasia, the Chinese government normalized relations with South Korea, leaving Kim Il-sung diplomatically isolated and economically in the dust.

After Kim Il-sung’s death in 1994, his son and successor Kim Jong-il asserted some measure of independence from China by not visiting for six years. He finally made a trip in 2000, soon before hosting the South Korean president for an unprecedented meeting and while preparing to bring President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang — or, only once it seemed like détente with South Korea and the United States was within grasp.

Several Chinese leaders, in turn, visited Pyongyang in the early 2000s, trying to project the image of a special relationship. Yet something was resolutely changing: The North Korean government was now doggedly pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, not only to defend itself against the threat of regime change suddenly posed by a hostile Bush administration, but also to emancipate itself from its unreliable and bossy ally.

Will Trump Be the Sage One?

Only one person can save us from the dangerous belligerent in the White House.

And that person is Donald Trump.

How screwed up is that?

Will the president let himself be pushed into a parlous war by John Bolton, who once buoyed the phony case on W.M.D.s in Iraq? Or will Trump drag back his national security adviser and the other uber hawks from the precipice of their fondest, bloodiest desire — to attack Iran?

Can Cadet Bone Spurs, as Illinois senator and Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth called Trump, set Tom Cotton straight that winning a war with Iran would not merely entail “two strikes, the first strike and the last strike”? Holy cakewalk.

Once, we counted on Trump’s advisers to pump the brakes on an out-of-control president. Now, we count on the president to pump the brakes on out-of-control advisers.

.. “On one side, you have a president who doesn’t want war, who simply wants to do with Iran what he has done with North Korea, to twist the arm of the Iranians to bring them to a negotiation on his terms,” said Gérard Araud, the recently departed French ambassador. “He thinks they will suffer and at the end, they will grovel in front of his power.”

But in a way, Araud said, the face-off with the Iranians is more “primitive and dangerous” because, besides Bolton, other factions in the Middle East are also “dreaming of going to war.”

“Even if Trump doesn’t personally want war, we are now at the mercy of any incident, because we are at maximum tension on both sides,” said Araud, recalling Candidate Trump’s bellicose Twitter ultimatumsin 2016 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards held American sailors blindfolded at gunpoint for 15 hours.

Given their sour feelings about W. shattering the Middle East and their anger at Trump shredding the Iran nuclear deal, Europeans are inclined to see the U.S. as trying to provoke Iran into war. This time, the Europeans will not be coming along — and who can blame them?

I’m having an acid flashback to 2002, when an immature, insecure, ill-informed president was bamboozled by his war tutors.

In an echo of the hawks conspiring with Iraqi exiles to concoct a casus belli for Iraq, Bolton told members of an Iranian exile group in Paris in 2017 that the Trump administration should go for regime change in Tehran.

And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!” Bolton cheerily told the exiles.

When Bolton was the fifth column in the Bush 2 State Department — there to lurk around and report back on flower child Colin Powell — he complained that W.’s Axis of Evil (Iran, Iraq, North Korea) was too limited, adding three more of his own (Cuba, Libya, Syria). Then, last year, Bolton talked about “the Troika of Tyranny” (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela). His flirtations with military intervention in Venezuela this month irritated Trump.

The 70-year-old with the Yeti mustache is an insatiable interventionist with an abiding faith in unilateralism and pre-emptive war. (The cost of our attenuated post-9/11 wars is now calculated at $5.9 trillion.)

W. and Trump are similar in some ways but also very different. As Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio notes: W. was interested in clarity. Trump wants chaos. W. wanted to trust his domineering advisers. Trump is always imagining betrayal. W. wanted to be a war hero, like his dad. Trump does not want to be trapped in an interminable war that will consume his presidency.

Certainly, the biographer says, Trump enjoys playing up the scary aspects of brown people with foreign names and ominous titles, like “mullah” and “ayatollah,” to stoke his base.

But Trump, unlike W., is driven by the drama of it. “It’s a game of revving up the excitement and making people afraid and then backing off on the fear in order to declare that he’s resolved the situation,” D’Antonio said. “Trump prefers threats and ultimatums to action because that allows him to look big and tough and get attention without doing something for which he will be held responsible. This is who he is at his core: an attention-seeking, action-averse propagandist who is terrified of accountability in the form of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base.”

David Axelrod, who had the military briefing about what a war with Iran would look like when he was in the Obama White House, said: “I’m telling you. It’s not a pretty picture.”

He says he is not sure which movie Bolton is starring in: “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag the Dog.”

If part of your brand is that you’re not going to get the U.S. into unnecessary wars,” he said, “why in the world would you hire John Bolton?