Kim Jong Un Is Pushing His Own 'Maximum Pressure' Campaign Against Donald Trump With Latest Missile Test, Experts Say

North Korea test fired two short-range projectiles on Thursday, sending the as-yet unidentified weapons into the sea off the country's eastern coast.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the two missiles were fired from the western city of Sunchon, north of Pyongyang, and flew around 230 miles across the peninsula before landing in the sea.

The projectiles—thought to be short-range weapons—reached a maximum altitude of around 56 miles, the Yonhap news agency reported.

The JCS said that both South Korean and American intelligence officials were analyzing the launches to identify the weapons used. Meanwhile, it added, "Our military is monitoring the situation in case of additional launches and maintaining a readiness posture."

The JCS also called on Pyongyang to "immediately stop such an act that does not help efforts to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula."

The launches appear to be the latest in a series of short-range missile tests, punctuated with more concerning events like the submarine-launched ballistic missile earlier this month. Thursday's test was the 12th such launch this year.

Meanwhile, North Korea and American negotiators are continuing negotiations on denuclearization and sanctions relief, which have so far been fruitless. Kim has set an end-of-year deadline for the American team to present a new proposal to break the deadlock.

Kim has so far avoided testing more significant intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons, moves that might bring a punitive American response. Thus far, President Donald Trump has been willing to overlook Kim's tests.

The president has described them as "very standard" and suggested the U.S. has nothing to fear, though America's regional allies have been less dismissive.

Harry Kazianis, the senior director of Korean studies at the National Interest, told Newsweek by email that the latest launches add to the risk of a new crisis in 2020 if there is no breakthrough in talks.

"Make no mistake, if there is no change in the current trajectory of U.S.-North Korea relations there is only one possible outcome: a long-range missile or nuclear weapons test by Pyongyang that will spark a crisis just like in 2017," he warned.

"The only question would be how President Trump would respond, having lost the only concession he was able to gain from North Korea after three summits that achieved nothing else."

North Korea has said it will pursue a "new way" if the U.S. does not come back to the table with a satisfactory plan. Kazianis warned that this will likely consist of "setting off a crisis that can't be ignored," which he added is what "Pyongyang always does when it wants attention."

The best way for Kim to achieve this, Kazianias argued, would be to begin 2020 by testing "an ICBM that can prove once and for all North Korea can hit the U.S. homeland with nuclear weapons."

Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, however, said the most recent test does not change much.

He told Newsweek the launches are part of a "steady drumbeat" of action designed to keep North Korea relevant and a concern for the U.S. "This is Kim's maximum pressure campaign himself, and it's keeping the pressure on without ratcheting it up," he explained.

Narang suggested the weapons fired Thursday were KN-25 short-range ballistic missiles, which have a maximum range of some 236 miles.

Kim could up the ante by testing another SLBM or even a satellite launched vehicle, both of which would force the U.S. to more closely consider its response. ICBM or nuclear tests remain Kim's trump card, which could well drag the world back to threats of war and "fire and fury," as in 2017.

Narang said he would not expect to see any of these tested before the end of 2019. "It's better for Kim just to let the clock run out and then see what happens at the end of the year," he suggested. But after that, "all bets are off."

Trump is bogged down in a plethora of foreign policy and domestic challenges, and struggling to deal with any of them. Even the killing of Islamic State militant group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—a major win for which the U.S. has been hungry for years—was tainted by his gleeful announcement of the operation.

The president is notoriously unpredictable. The pressure of the looming 2020 election coupled with impeachment proceedings may make him even more so, making further North Korean tests fraught with risk.

But Trump's North Korea policy is one of few that can be considered a win, if a limited one. Narang said his desire to keep it that way offers Kim opportunities to test more weapons without reproach.

"If he has nothing really else going for him and the economy starts to guess is he tries to preserve the win and just kind of put his head in the sand, no matter what Kim does," Narang said.

North Korea, missile, test, launch, Donald Trump
People watch a television broadcast reporting the North Korean missile launch at the Seoul Railway Station on October 31, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea. Woohae Cho/Getty Images/Getty