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Forecast Podcast: North Korea’s recent missile launches pose new challenges for missile defense systems

A ballistic missile on North Korea's Victory Day in 2013

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Show notes:

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Vivian Wang discuss North Korea’s recent missile launches, plus more on Beijing tightening travel rules, foreign troops leaving Kazakhstan, a meeting of Lebanon’s government and England scrapping its “Plan B” coronavirus rules.

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jimmy Lovaas, Awais Ahmad, Ahmed Namatalla, Sophie Perryer and Vivian Wang.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe


This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is January 20th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Beijing tightening travel requirements, foreign troops leaving Kazakhstan, a meeting of Lebanon’s government, England scrapping its “Plan B” coronavirus rules and an update on North Korea’s recent missile tests.

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Beijing tightens rules for entering city

Information compiled by Jimmy Lovaas

JIMMY: Travelers headed to China’s capital city Beijing are about to encounter another hurdle. Starting Saturday, visitors will be required to take a coronavirus test within 72 hours of arrival.

The new requirement, which is expected to be in effect through March, comes after the city confirmed its first case of the omicron variant this week. 

Chinese authorities allege the Beijing case and another in Shenzhen were “imported through international express mail.” 

Meanwhile, China is sticking with its “zero-tolerance” coronavirus policy, with more than 20 million people on lockdown across the country. 

Now, the new testing rule also comes as the city is just weeks away from hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics

Of course, travel to China is already restricted from certain countries and travelers also have to show two negative tests taken within 48 hours of travel. 

Foreign troops to leave Kazakhstan

Information compiled by Awais Ahmad

JIMMY: Forces with the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, also known as the CSTO, are set to complete their withdrawal from Kazakhstan by Sunday.

They were deployed there earlier this month in response to nationwide protests.

Russian officials said they would pull all of their troops from Kazakhstan by midweek, and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said no foreign troops will remain in the country after Sunday. 

The withdrawal began last Thursday after what Kazakh officials called the completion of an “anti-terrorist operation” after violent protests across the country. 

Now, the United States criticized the deployment as a potential overreach in Russia’s influence over the region, but Tokayev said involving the CSTO troops was justified. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, praised the work of the troops, saying the practice of “using [their] armed forces will be studied further.”

Lebanese government meeting

Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: Lebanon’s divided government is set to meet Monday for the first time in three months.

The meeting comes as the country faces an economic collapse ranked by the World Bank “in the top 10, possibly top three, most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century.”

Lebanon is short on food and fuel, its currency is in a freefall, its people divided along sectarian lines and its politicians as deadlocked as they’d ever been since the 2019 Beirut port explosion that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands more. 

Billionaire Najib Mikati, appointed as caretaker prime minister until elections can be held in May, has been unable to slow the decline, continuing to manifest itself in the form of national power outages, protesters attacking banks and armed clashes over resources.

Now, the government meeting comes after ministers representing the militant group Hezbollah and its ally Amal Movement agreed to end a boycott after being investigated in the port explosion. 

Mikati has been holding talks with the International Monetary Fund, so it’s possible the cabinet could make progress toward securing a loan – a loan that may ease economic pressure and prevent the country from falling apart until election day.

England “Plan B” coronavirus rules due to be scrapped

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to scrap England’s so-called “Plan B” rules on Wednesday as coronavirus infections continue to fall from their December peak.

The British government introduced the “Plan B” rules, which include work from home guidance and mandatory face masks, in early December. The measures were rolled out due to concerns over the impact of the more infectious omicron coronavirus variant on the country’s health service. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said hospital admissions are now beginning to slow, while Conservative party co-chair Oliver Dowden said data to support lifting measures looked “encouraging.”

Now, Prime Minister Johnson is also reportedly working on a longer-term strategy for living with coronavirus which would scrap the legal requirement to self-isolate. 

The plan, reportedly dubbed “Operation Save Big Dog,” comes as Johnson seeks to shift the emphasis toward his government’s achievements during the pandemic and away from allegations he and other staff attended multiple parties in breach of coronavirus rules. 

North Korean missile launches

Information compiled by Vivian Wang

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on North Korea’s recent missile launches. For more on that I recently spoke with Factal Editor Vivian Wang.

JIMMY: Hi, Vivian.

VIVIAN  Hi, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: So, North Korea has recently been in the news after launching some missiles into the sea. But that’s not that unusual for them, right? Why so much attention this time?

VIVIAN: Yeah, missile launches definitely aren’t a new thing for North Korea, but it’s pretty unusual for them to conduct so many in such a short period of time – at least in recent years. Through the beginning of the pandemic there were barely any, but last September, they conducted four tests within the month, including their first ever hypersonic missile test. Now we’re less than a month into 2022 and there have been another four tests this January, including two more hypersonic missiles.

JIMMY: Do we know where they’re launching these missiles from? And for that matter, do we know where they’re landing?

VIVIAN: The recent tests were fired from a few different places, mostly in the northern part of North Korea. One of the tests actually involved the missiles launched from a train. They all generally land in the ocean east of the country. There’s a big rock there they like to target fairly often.

JIMMY: You said something about hypersonic missiles. Are these just particularly fast missiles or something?

VIVIAN: Yeah, so they’re hypersonic, so they are faster than the speed of sound, but experts say they’re actually more notable for their maneuverability than their speed. This, along with North Korea’s apparently renewed focus on short range ballistic missiles, show they might be focusing on improving their capacity to evade missile defense systems in the region.

JIMMY: How have the US and others reacted to these new launches?

VIVIAN: The US has reacted with individual sanctions on North Korean nationals and they’re pursuing more in the UN. They’re claiming the launches are a violation of multiple Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missiles or nuclear devices. Japan and South Korea condemned the launches as well.

JIMMY: And there were some immediate reactions to one of the hypersonic launches too, correct? I think I saw some flights were even affected. What was that all about? How did that happen?

VIVIAN: During one of the launches, actually, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a brief ground stop at airports across the US West Coast stopping flights. Though they haven’t actually confirmed whether the missile launch was the reason why they did that.

JIMMY: I guess my last question and, you know, maybe one of the more important ones, is what Should folks be watching for next?

VIVIAN: So obviously, more potential launches, but also watch for how those launches and rising tensions might affect regional developments. The Winter Olympics are coming up next month in Beijing; South Korea’s holding a presidential election in March; The US has midterm elections this year. The weapons tests aren’t necessarily held in reaction to those events since experts say they’re actually planned out long term, but they’re still definitely used as diplomatic leverage for North Korea.

JIMMY: Well, I know you’ll be keeping an eye on the region for us. And, you know, I trust you’ll let us know if there’s any important updates. I appreciate that. Thank you very much for your time.

VIVIAN: Thanks for having me on, Jimmy.

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from myself and fellow Factal editors Awais Ahmad, Ahmed Namatalla and Sophie Perryer. Our interview featured editor Vivian Wang and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

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Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe