North Korea WMD Activity in December: Naughty or Nice?

Prediction: November 22, 2017

chance of North Korean WMD activity in the next 14 days.

chance of North Korean WMD activity in the next 30 days.

On November 22, predictive signals by Predata/CSIS Beyond Parallel indicate there is an elevated likelihood of a North Korean WMD activity in the next 14 to 30 day windows. The underlying 30-day predictive signal has been breaching its highest levels each day since November 11, reaching its highest level in the past 81 days on November 21. The underlying 14-day predictive signal has been breaching its highest levels each day since November 15, reaching its highest level in the past 59 days on November 21 and exceeding its 30-day trailing average by 2.6 standard deviations.

The Volume and Engagement in Online Conversations Related to North Korean Weapons Programs

The upward trend in the signals follows a quiet spell in North Korea’s WMD activity from October through November despite significant recent activity in Northeast Asia.

  • On November 21, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced additional sanctions to further isolate North Korea. The announcement targeted trading, labor and shipping companies from North Korea as well as some Chinese entities.
  • On November 20, upon returning from his 12-day trip in Asia, President Trump announced at a Cabinet meeting that the United States is officially designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. First added in 1988, North Korea had been removed from the Department of State’s list in 2008 by President George W. Bush during Six-Party Talks negotiations. President Trump said the designation would be followed by increased sanctions on North Korea.
  • From November 11 – November 14, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), USS Nimitz (CVN-68), and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) strike groups conducted joint exercises in the Western Pacific. This was the first time in a decade three U.S. carrier strike groups operated in the Western Pacific at the same time. South Korean and Japanese ships also joined the exercises. Most recently, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations Ja Song Nam protested the exercises in a November 20 letter to the UN Secretary General.
  • President Donald Trump conducted a 12-day tour from November 3 through November 14 around Asia with stops including Japan, South Korea, and China. President Trump made it clear that seeking denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was one of the primary goals of the trip.
  • The Communist Party of China (CPC) held the 19th Party Congress from October 18 – October 24. The much-anticipated Party Congress occurs just once every five years to elect Party leadership and gave President Xi Jinping an opportunity to further strengthen his leadership.

Naughty or Nice?

The likelihood of WMD activity in the coming weeks is tempered by the fact that, historically, North Korea has not conducted many tests in the November and December timeframe. According Beyond Parallel datasets, in the five years since Kim Jong-Un came to power only three tests have occurred in these months. In 2015, North Korea fired a submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM), presumed to be a KN-11, from the east coast city of Sinpo on both November 28 and December 21. In 2012, North Korea launched a Kwangmyŏngsŏng satellite (Unha-3 ICBM) and successfully placed it in orbit on December 12. North Korea’s cold weather can create technical problems for tests during the winter months. December also historically marks North Korea’s military exercise period with its resources and attention devoted to these annual training activities.

These predictions are made possible through a Predata-CSIS Beyond Parallel collaboration seeking to bring open source intelligence tools and big data analytics to issues related to the Korean peninsula. The signals are drawn from open sources across the internet which provide a rich source of information for insights and context to current events and ongoing trends. Predata’s analytics are paired with Beyond Parallel databases of historical events to analyze current trends and make predictions about future events.