By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korea will likely continue with its ongoing provocations and conduct a nuclear test and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test to improve its capabilities, U.S. experts said Tuesday.
Harry Kazianis, president of the Rogue States Project think tank, also argued the North currently faces little or no repercussions from its provocative actions and thus will continue to seize the opportunity to advance its weapons.
"I guarantee that Pyongyang will test an ICBM in the coming weeks," he told Yonhap News Agency.
"While North Korea has been working for decades to develop reliable missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons, one has to assume that the Kim family knows Washington is distracted due to the war in Ukraine and has no real ability to sanction them further or stop them," he added, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
North Korea on Tuesday (Seoul time) fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan, marking its fifth missile launch in just over a week.
Pyongyang now has fired nearly 40 ballistic missiles this year, the largest number of ballistic missile launched in a single year.
Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, agreed the North's latest missile provocations may actually be aimed at improving its weapons capabilities.
"Missile launches can serve several concurrent objectives -- development of new weapons systems, routine military training, exercising the war plan Kim implemented after assuming power a decade ago, a message of strength and resolve to the North Korean populace, and sending a signal to Washington and Seoul," said Klingner.
"Pyongyang's actions, coupled with statements by its leadership, affirm enduring regime themes of resistance to outside pressure, rejection of denuclearization, dismissal of offers of economic benefits, and affirmation that its nuclear weapons are for both deterrence and offensive purposes, including a decade of threat of preemptive nuclear attack," he added.
The experts argued that Pyongyang may also conduct a nuclear test before the year's end.
"North Korea will absolutely test a nuclear weapon by mid-December," said Kazianis. "They know that Washington has no real ability to punish them with the war in Ukraine raging and that being the focus for the Biden Administration."
"Now is the time for the Kim regime to test any and all weapons it can before the war in Ukraine ends in someway -- another opportunity like this may not come for many years to come, so Kim will surely take advantage," he added.
South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, earlier said the North, if it decides to conduct a nuclear test, will likely to do so after Oct. 16 when the Chinese Communist Party is set to hold its National Congress, and before the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 8.
Klingner agreed the North will likely wait at least until after the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.
"Pyongyang may be inching toward conducting its 7th nuclear test, an ICBM overflight of Japan, or demonstrating a multiple-warhead ICBM test. Any of these would significantly escalate regional tensions," he said.
"However, the regime will likely wait until after China's mid-October party congress so as to not anger its ally," he added.
North Korea conducted its sixth and last nuclear test in September 2017.