U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has said that North Korea is the most urgent and dangerous threat to international peace and security. In a written testimony submitted to the House Armed Services Committee on Monday, Mattis pointed out that the North’s provocative actions have not abated despite U.N. sanctions. North Korea has conducted eleven missile tests this year, including five since the Moon Jae-in government took office in South Korea on May 10. Here’s Moon Seong-mook from the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy to explain what North Korea has in mind behind the latest series of missile provocations.

For military purposes, North Korea needs to continue to advance its missile capabilities. Politically, the nation believes that the continual missiles launches are a way to strengthen internal unity and Kim Jong-un’s position, as North Korea has made few achievements domestically since he came to power. Pyongyang is also sending a message to the outside world that it will not be swayed by international pressure. Lastly, the North is telling the new South Korean government to change its position if it really wants to hold talks with the North and develop bilateral ties. In other words, North Korea is urging the South not to bring up preconditions set by the international community, such as denuclearization and a halt to missile firings

North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile called Hwasong-12 on May 14. A week later, on May 21, it also launched a medium-range ballistic missile known as Pukguksong-2. The nation fired the KN-06 surface-to-air missile on May 27, followed by the launch of a variant of a Scud-type missile for use as an anti-ship ballistic missile on May 29. And it successfully fired surface-to-ship cruise missiles on June 8. In less than a month after the Hwasong-12 missile launch, North Korea showed off the capabilities of five different missiles, reflecting that the nation has made rapid progress on diversifying and advancing its ballistic missiles.

The five different types of missiles with various ranges have their own purposes. By test-firing them, North Korea has demonstrated that it is capable of using different missiles under any circumstances, for any purposes, and at any time. It wants to show that its missiles can hit U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan, and also strike Guam, Hawaii, and even the U.S. mainland. North Korea probably wanted to show this with action, not with words.

The five types of missiles North Korea recently test-fired are part of the seven new missiles that the nation unveiled during a military parade on April 15. The remaining two are believed to be intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. On June 10, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper in North Korea claimed that the regime is not far away from launching an ICBM. Military experts predict that it will take two to three years for North Korea to actually deploy an ICBM for combat use, but some are concerned that the North might carry out its ICBM test this year.

The Hwasong-12 missile flew 787 kilometers, reaching a maximum altitude of 2,111.5 kilometers. If fired at a standard angle, it could have flown about 5,000 kilometers. The missile is a single-stage rocket. Analysts suspect that if North Korea finds a way to put multiple rockets together, the missile could fly 10,000 to 15,000 kilometers and therefore be used as an ICBM. If North Korea succeeds in developing a missile that can fly a distance equivalent of an ICBM, the remaining step is to secure the missile re-entry technology that enables a nuclear warhead to withstand temperatures of 8,000 degrees Celsius when it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, and to accurately strike a target with a guidance system. If North Korea’s missile technology reaches that stage, it can deploy an ICBM for actual warfare.

On January 1 this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year’s speech that preparations for test-launching an ICBM reached their final stages. International attention turns to whether Pyongyang will push ahead with an ICBM test, which is a red line drawn by the U.S.

North Korea has yet to cross the red line, but I think the nation could, depending on China’s attitude. China has played a role in discouraging North Korea from any major provocations so far. But if China-U.S. relations worsen and if China sides with North Korea, Pyongyang may cross the red line.

In the meantime, the Moon Jae-in government in Seoul approved requests by South Korean civic groups to contact North Korea, as it shows a flexible attitude toward private-level inter-Korean exchanges. But Pyongyang rejected the South Korean group’s visit to the North, blaming the Seoul government for supporting international sanctions, which are only intensifying due to the North’s continual missile provocations. Mr. Moon explains how North Korea may act down the road and how regional diplomacy may evolve.

If North Korea makes a drastic decision to carry out a sixth nuclear test or fire an ICBM in defiance of international concerns and warnings, the U.S. will implement sanction measures it has postponed so far, including a secondary boycott. China, too, will step up its pressure against North Korea as the secondary boycott will deal a serious blow to Chinese businesses. Then, tension will inevitably escalate in the region. South Korea should maintain its solid defense posture against the North. It also needs to closely cooperate with the U.S. and China, and send a clear message to North Korea to induce the communist state to make the right choice.

North Korea is expected to resort to high-intensity provocations for the time being to gain the upper hand in future negotiations. In this situation, inter-Korean relations are unlikely to improve anytime soon. The two-day South Korea-U.S. summit scheduled for late this month should hopefully provide some momentum to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.

[Interview] Chorus Members Sing for Inter-Korean Harmony

Members of a singing group called “Chorus for Inter-Korean Harmony” are rehearsing for a singing contest to be held on June 23. As the name of the chorus indicates, the group consists of South Koreans from Nowon-gu District in Seoul and North Korean defectors. Let’s hear from two North Korean members, Kim Mi-rye and Park Jeong-wol .

I’m in my late 50s, and singing on stage was simply unthinkable for me. So, I was extremely delighted to be able to sing in South Korea. After laughing a lot and singing at the top of my voice here, I feel very happy and refreshed.

I didn’t know how to sing at all. But after singing as a member of the chorus for over a year, I became a pretty good singer. It’s a remarkable transformation. I can confidently say to my children that I’m a singer. The kids are happy, too, and they are proud of me.

The chorus was launched in 2012 to promote communication and harmony among North Korean newcomers and South Korean residents. The choir has now become quite famous, taking part in a variety of events, including a 2015 concert hosted by Seoul City to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. When the singing group was first created, however, it was actually impossible for the members to sing together. That was because the North Korean members’ vocal techniques were completely different from those of the South Koreans. Also, the North Koreans had a different concept of “singing in chorus.” So, they learned how to sing all over again and received special vocal training. Now, the members are able to produce harmonious sounds just by looking into each other’s eyes. They have even published a songbook containing 60 songs selected from South and North Korea. Here’s conductor Lee Sang-ju.

South Koreans love North Korean songs and vice versa. We had no problems when choosing the songs we’re going to sing. Most of the songs contain the wish for unification. We also sing the famous song titled “Garden Balsam,” which was enjoyed by Koreans during the Japanese colonial rule. That is, the song was shared by all Koreans before their nation was divided. North Korean songs we chose include “Nice to Meet You,” “See You Again”, and “Whistle,” while there are numerous South Korean songs as well, such as “Time,” “Pioneer”, and “Face.”

The members came from different cultures and backgrounds, but they say they often get emotional when singing together. Let’s hear from Kim Ok-ran, leader of the choir, and then again from choir member Kim Mi-rye.

Even when I sing a North Korean song that I don’t know, I feel like I’m connected with the people from the North. Some South Korean members shed tears while singing with North Koreans. I believe we all find peace while singing. I’m glad that this chorus was created.

Singing North Korean songs always makes me cry. They remind me of my hometown, family, and friends. I try not to cry, but I can’t stop the tears from welling up in my eyes.

Sometimes, the chorus members have to lower their voices, if necessary, and make others’ voices stand out instead, to create harmony. Through singing, people from South and North Korea can feel that they can communicate and understand each other. Here again is Kim Mi-rye.

Here, we learn to make harmony, not only in music but in mind as well. North Korean expats learn everything from South Koreans, including culture, the way of talking, and even the spirit of sharing. I saw South Koreans share many things, including kimchi, with neighbors in need. Many North Korean defectors can’t afford to do that because they have led difficult lives. But I find myself hoping to share what little I have with others, just like the South Korean people.

While singing together, the chorus members have learned different expressions used by people from the other side of the border, recognizing each other’s culture and history. Conductor Lee says that this process is a rehearsal for the future unification of Korea.

Creating harmony is very important culturally and socially, especially in human relationships. It is all the more so at this chorus, where South and North Korea become one. The members differ from one another in many things, including the way of thinking and lifestyles. But they can become one through music. I would call it a rehearsal of unification, which will unite South and North Korea as one.

The members are dreaming of standing on stage in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula after unification. We’ll wrap up the program with a song titled “Whistle,” which contains this ardent wish of the singers.