Why North Korea Launched Another Missile Now, After Two Months of Silence

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in a photo released in September. Reuters

North Korea set off a ballistic missile on Tuesday, triggering questions about its intentions after a two-month break from weapons tests that some U.S. officials took as a positive sign.

But those familiar with the secluded country say the lull is rather normal and didn't signal that Pyongyang was simply stopping its nuclear development and threats of warfare. In fact, the North has usually launched very few missiles in the final quarters of the past few years, according to experts.

"North Korea tests its missiles when it's ready to. They've got a program in place that probably has a schedule and a timetable for deliverables," Shea Cotton, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told The Christian Science Monitor.

Cotton, who uses modeling techniques and satellite images to geo-locate North Korea's nuclear sites and runs a database on missile tests, noticed that the country accelerated its missile test program in 2014. It pulled back in 2015 and advanced it last year with 24 big trials. Pyongyang has initiated 19 tests this year, with the last one before Tuesday coming in September.

The pause since September fell in line with patterns from previous years. The average number of missile tests during the fourth quarter since 2012 is 0.8, compared to an average of 4.1 to 4.8 for each of the first three quarters of the year, according to Cotton.

.@POTUS was briefed, while missile was still in the air, on the situation in North Korea.

— Kayleigh McEnany (@PressSec) November 28, 2017

It is possible that the North has fired up its testing activity because it got some major domestic tasks out of the way, such as harvest time, which begins in September and diverts troops and resources to tend the crops. Pyongyang also may be coming out of a months-long period of intense military training that occurs each year, according to The Atlantic.

Any gap in missile testing should not be disregarded. North Korea has no intention to honor U.S. demands to denuclearize, and it is sticking to its commitment to build a nuclear arsenal capable of striking America. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said it himself in a statement responding to President Donald Trump's threat in September to "totally destroy" the regime if provoked.

"The path I chose is correct and that is the one I have to follow to the last," Kim said.