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North Korea's missile tests: A dangerous escalation?
Some analysts believe Kim Jong Un is actually signaling that he's ready to negotiate
South Korean Army soldiers patrol in the border village Paju on May 20.
South Korean Army soldiers patrol in the border village Paju on May 20. AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
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orth Korea fired two short-range missiles into the sea off its north coast on Monday. That makes six missile launches in three days for the combative communist regime, in what United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon calls a "dangerous escalation" of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim Jong Un's military says the missile launches were legitimate military exercises meant "to cope with the mounting war measures from the U.S. and South Korea," which have held joint military training recently. And while few people accept that stance at face value, there is a lot of disagreement over what exactly Pyongyang is up to.

The most popular theory is that Kim's regime is making a show of force to impress its people in the wake of annual U.S. and South Korea joint military exercises, which wrapped up last month after an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier visited South Korean waters. The effect of Pyongyang's actions, says Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge, is that North Korea is pushing tensions — and the fear of an actual shooting war — to new heights. With these missile launches, Durden says, Kim Jong Un, who up to now was guilty of nothing more than "endless posturing," has "escalated from merely constant jawboning into at least some variant of activity."

But are the missile launches really something to worry about? Andrew Salmon, a journalist and author based in Seoul, doesn't appear to think so. The missiles believed to have been fired over the weekend weren't like the multi-stage, medium-range Musudan missile North Korea tested in February when it put a satellite into orbit. "It's a short-range tactical weapon," Salmon tells CNN. "If any other country launched this kind of weapon, it's a routine test, nobody would be too worried. It's really simply because it's North Korea doing this that it raises concerns."

Some observers even suggest that the missile tests might be an encouraging sign. Kim Yeon-su, a professor at Seoul's Korea National Defense University, tells Reuters the latest launches were bold enough to make an impression back home without really scaring folks overseas, and thus might be an attempt to put the crisis to rest and move toward talks on curbing Pyongyang's missile and nuclear research in exchange for food aid. "These launches are its tactic of signaling to the world that the regime is willing to negotiate now, while at the same time saving face," Kim Yeon-su says.

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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