FACT CHECK: Has North Korea Not Tested Missiles In 7 Months?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

President Donald Trump said Friday that North Korea has not tested any missiles in seven months.

Verdict: True

North Korea last tested a missile almost seven months ago in late November.

Fact Check:

Trump mentioned North Korea’s pause in nuclear testing during a surprise appearance on “Fox & Friends” on the White House lawn. He touted his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier in the week as a success.

“You haven’t had any rockets shot up in the air for seven months,” Trump said. “You haven’t had any research. They just blew up their test site.” He repeated the talking point a few minutes later. “Hey, you haven’t had a rocket test in seven months.”

North Korea’s last reported missile test was on Nov. 29, 2017 local time (still Nov. 28, 2017 in the U.S.) – about seven months ago. Its last reported nuclear test was in September 2017. The regime said in May that it had destroyed a nuclear test site.

Reports said that the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched in November reached a height of 4,500 kilometers and flew 1,000 kilometers to land in the East Sea/Sea of Japan. It was North Korea’s 20th missile test and third ICBM launch in 2017.

Experts believe that the regime has suspended its missile testing because it wants to facilitate diplomatic outreach and because it has already demonstrated successful missile launches.

The immediate reason for the pause in tests was the winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February. “It was never publicized, but the two Koreas seem to have reached an agreement late last year involving no tests in exchange for North Korean participation in the Olympics,” Joshua Pollack, senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS), told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email.

North Korea says that it is no longer testing missiles because it has proved that its weapons work. Kim touted the successful tests in his 2018 New Year’s address and said that the weapons sector should start mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles. He officially announced a stop to nuclear and missile tests in April ahead of his summit with Trump. Kim said that long-range missile testing was no longer required because his nuclear forces were completed, including, he claimed, a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the U.S.

Despite its weapons advancements, North Korea’s missile technology might not be entirely accurate or reliable. “From an American perspective, we would want to test more, but that’s because we’re rich and we can always afford to test things more,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at MISS, told TheDCNF. (RELATED: MSNBC Host Claims North Korea Has Been Able To Strike Guam For Years)

North Korea has paused its missile tests before. “This break is only unusual in the context of the really intense period of testing over the past few years,” Lewis said. “We’ve seen long moratoriums when there’s a kind of lack of technical need to test plus a political incentive to refrain from doing so.”

Kim ended a nearly two and a half-year pause in tests a shortly after he took power with short-range missile test in January 2012 a failed rocket launch in April 2012. There was also a long pause in missile tests between 1998 and 2003. (RELATED: Does North Korea Always Break Its Nuclear Promises?)

The regime significantly increased the frequency of its missile testing under Kim. He has tested more missiles than his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, tested from 1984 through 2011.

Shea Cotton, a research associate at MISS, said that from 2013 to 2017, North Korea’s missile testing activity followed a fairly regular pattern, averaging four to five missiles tested in each of the first three quarters of the year followed by a drop-off in the final quarter of the year. “So this gap in testing we’ve seen since the start of the year is extremely unusual,” Cotton told TheDCNF in an email.

There is a possibility that North Korea resumes testing missiles. “North Korea might go and do another missile test or two just to say that they believe they still can do missile tests, and then whatever feelings of goodwill built up by the summit evaporate,” Cotton said.

But experts think that the regime has enough political incentive to continue to refrain from testing. “The Kim family has wanted a presidential photo-op for 30 years, and they got it,” Lewis said. “As long as we are bribing him with those things, I think he probably won’t test.”

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter