Peaking Possibilities of May North Korea WMD Activity

A Predata-CSIS Beyond Parallel May 12 prediction indicates there is a 69% likelihood of North Korean weapons of mass destruction (WMD) activity taking place in the next 14 days. In the next 30 days, there is an 85% chance for North Korean WMD activity. Beyond Parallel defines WMD activity as nuclear tests and missile launches.

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As seen below, Predata’s North Korea WMD overview signal captured a significant overnight increase and a notable spike in conversations on May 11, recording its highest level in the last 66 days and exceeding the 97th percentile of its history in the past 365 days. Furthermore, the signal’s 30-day exponential moving average showed significant overnight increase, exceeding the 95th percentile of all overnight moves in the previous year. This last occurred on March 6, 2017 amid the then ongoing U.S.-ROK military exercises.

On May 10, the underlying North Korea WMD activity signal for the elevated 14-day prediction reached its highest level in the previous 43 days, exceeding its 30-day trailing average by 2.1 standard deviations. This spike in online activity occurred on the same day that South Korea’s newly elected president, Moon Jae-in, took office.

At the same time, the Predata-Beyond Parallel signal monitoring the online conversation around inter-Korean relations also reached its highest level in the past 61 days on May 10 showing a significant overnight increase. This online conversation began trending upward on May 7, just a few days prior to the May 9 presidential election in South Korea. The increased activity in online conversation around inter-Korean relations is likely attributable to anticipation of President Moon’s North Korea policy.

These signal predictions of elevated likelihood for North Korea WMD activity are corroborated by other Beyond Parallel empirical studies of North Korean behavior and events on the Korean peninsula.

An increased likelihood of North Korean WMD activity comports with a CSIS Beyond Parallel study of South Korean elections and North Korean provocations. Following the May 9 election of President Moon, we are still well within the 6.5-15 day window for a possible provocation found by this study.

Given the negative state of U.S.-North Korea relations thus far this year, we are also currently with in a window of increased likelihood of North Korean provocations following the conclusion of the regularly scheduled U.S.-South Korea military exercises on April 30. According a study of Beyond Parallel datasets, the state of U.S.-North Korea diplomatic relations before the exercise period (defined as 4-8 weeks prior) is an indicator of whether North Korea will carry out provocations during or after the exercises. History shows that if pre-exercise relations are negative, then there is a higher likelihood of North Korean belligerence during and after these exercises.

Lastly, it is worth noting that recent commercial satellite imagery indicates there has been increased activity around North Korea’s nuclear test site which suggest preparations for a sixth nuclear test are likely underway.