Ruining your vacation: North Korean provocations during U.S. national holidays

Korea Chair Snapshot

In the days leading up to President Joe Biden’s first trip to Asia last weekend, speculation abounded of an oft-speculated seventh North Korean nuclear test. Pundits, the media and administration officials from both the U.S. and South Korea all reported and assessed that there was a “genuine possibility” that Pyongyang could potentially disrupt Biden’s trip to Korea and Japan with a nuclear test or a long-range ballistic missile test. In the end, the Korea portion of the trip happened without such a disruption, and President Biden held a successful first summit with newly-elected President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea from May 20 to 22. When should we expect a North Korean nuclear test?
  • Our satellite imagery analysis suggests preparations are underway or near completion at Tunnel No. 3 at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test facility.
  • But the timing of a test rests solely within the hands of Kim Jong-un.
  • As the data below suggests, there is a North Korean pattern to disrupt major U.S. national holidays with a provocation.
  • It is plausible that North Korea could conduct a nuclear test during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
  • This will not be the first time North Korea has disrupted Memorial Day weekend with provocations, having already done so seven times (1990, twice in 1993, 1997, 2007, 2009 and 2017).
  • It has also rained on Fourth of July celebrations thrice (2006, 2009 and 2017).

Victor Cha
Senior Vice President for Asia and Korea Chair