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Forecast podcast: North Korea nuclear test looms following spate of missile launches

A landscape photo of an unknown place in North Korea. To the left in the foreground stands Kim Jong Un. To the right, in the background, a ballistic missile rises from its launch site.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Vivian Wang discuss North Korea’s next nuclear test, plus more on a Jan. 6 Committee hearing, Burkina Faso picking a transitional president, NATO’s annual nuclear deterrence exercises and the European Council meeting in Brussels.

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These stories and others are also available in our free weekly Forecast newsletter.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Awais Ahmad, Alex Moore, Jess Fino and Vivian Wang.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com.


Factal Forecast podcast transcript

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

JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:

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 October 13th. 

In this week’s forecast we’ve got a Jan. 6 Committee hearing, Burkina Faso picking a transitional president, NATO’s annual nuclear deterrence exercises, the European Council meeting and a look at a possible nuclear test in North Korea. 

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

Jan. 6 Committee hearing

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: The U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol will hold its next, and possibly final, hearing on Thursday. It comes as the November midterm elections loom just a few weeks away. 

The hearing also comes after a two-week postponement due to Hurricane Ian and its impact on Florida.

The panel’s 10th hearing will present “significant” new information, according to chair Bennie Thompson, but is not expected to include live witnesses

Among those to appear before the committee recently was Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who claimed her efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election were separate from her husband’s role on the court. 

Also under review are approximately 800,000 pages of communication material from the Secret Service.

Now, the committee plans to present a final report by year’s end, while also considering legislative recommendations. 

Those recommendations include reforms to the Insurrection Act and the regulation of militia groups.

Burkina Faso national meetings

Information compiled by Awais Ahmad

JIMMY: Burkina Faso will pick a transitional president during national meetings on Friday and Saturday. This, following the country’s second coup this year.

Burkina Faso was thrust into political unrest on Sept. 30 after a group of officers decided to remove Paul-Henri Damiba who served as the country’s interim president after taking power during its last coup in January. 

Army Captain Ibrahim Traore now holds the position until the new head of state is chosen in the meetings this weekend.

Now, Traore had previously promised to organize elections to return to a civilian government by July 2024. But concerns remain over speculation that he will work closely with Russia. That raises questions about Russia’s growing influence in the West African country amid the region’s weakening ties with France. 

NATO nuclear deterrence exercises

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: NATO will begin its annual routine nuclear deterrence exercises at some point next week.

Alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg confirmed the exercises would go ahead as planned despite heightened tensions with Russia as Moscow intensifies its war effort in Ukraine. 

The annual exercises typically involve nuclear-capable aircraft, conventional jets, surveillance and refueling aircraft. 

The Untited States does keep a small number of nuclear gravity bombs in Europe as part of a NATO nuclear sharing arrangement.

Now, while the exercises come as Moscow escalates its war effort, mobilizes manpower and invokes nuclear threats, it’s important to stress that the drills are annual, routine and pre-planned. 

NATO chief Stoltenberg also made clear that the alliance has detected no discernable changes in Russia’s nuclear posture, echoing repeated statements made by the United States, which has also made clear that its nuclear posture remains unchanged.

EU leaders meeting

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: The European Council will meet next Thursday and Friday in Brussels. They’ll be discussing the continent’s energy crisis and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, European leaders met in Prague for informal discussions on the ongoing energy crisis in a bid to come up with joint measures. 

And while they failed to commit to a unified response due to divided opinions on an energy price cap, leaders did commit to provide more financial and military aid to Ukraine.

Now, while leaders from the EU’s 27 countries agree on the principle of an energy price cap, next week’s meeting will aim to agree on details. 

Officials hope to come up with a package of short-term measures to contain the rising costs of energy as well as longer-term measures to redesign the industry. 

Following the Russian offensive in western cities of Ukraine over the past week, leaders are expected to accelerate discussion on further support for Kyiv. 

Finally, while commission President Ursula von der Leyen has indicated the union must increase its financial support, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has also continued to push for an increase in arms shipments from Europe.

Possible North Korea nuclear test

Information compiled by Vivian Wang

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on North Korea’s possible upcoming nuclear test. For more on that I spoke with Factal editor Vivian Wang.

JIMMY: Hey, Vivian.

VIVIAN: Hey, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: You know, in January and March you were here talking about North Korean missile tests and here we are seven months later and now we’re talking about a possible nuclear test. Not exactly the trajectory we were hoping for. I guess to start, has North Korea actually said they plan to test a nuclear weapon.

VIVIAN: So off the top of my head, I don’t think North Korea has said outright that they’re going to conduct a nuclear weapons test, but they have emphasized building up their nuclear capabilities and all signs are pointing toward them being ready to conduct a test. Their Punggye-ri testing site, the only place where they would be able to conduct a nuclear test, was blown up in 2018, but has since been rebuilt, according to South Korean intelligence. They say North Korea could be ready to test as soon as mid October to early November.

JIMMY: How does this fit in with North Korea’s recent missile tests?

VIVIAN: So there’s actually quite a bit going on there. The launches started right around when US Vice President Kamala Harris visited South Korea, like last month, and continued as the US, South Korea and Japan launched multiple large-scale naval drills near the Korean peninsula. The launches are of course part of North Korea’s longer term weapons program, but the timing is important to North Korea so they can take a stand against what they see as threats from the US and its allies. This last set of tests included a ballistic missile that reached the longest range of any missile ever fired from North Korea. It flew over Japan – a first since 2017 – and even prompted evacuation warnings there. And all the while, North Korean state media has really been emphasizing their nuclear program. They said the missile tests are practice for so-called tactical nuclear strikes on potential South Korean and US targets. They’ve also claimed they’re building underwater nuclear weapons silos, though that’s much less likely to be true according to experts.

JIMMY: Do you think there’s any chance they may yield to international pressure and back off conducting such a test?

VIVIAN: At this point it’s really unlikely. Kim Jong Un has said repeatedly he has no intention of resuming disarmament or denuclearization talks with the US and earlier last month, North Korea said that they had made their nuclear status “irreversible” by passing a law enshrining their right to use pre-emptive nuclear strikes for defense. All signs are pointing toward a nuclear test being conducted; it’s just a matter of when.

JIMMY: I know you said the test could possibly come in the weeks ahead, but do we know anything more?

VIVIAN: So, South Korea’s intelligence agencies said the window is from October 16 to November 7, between the upcoming Communist Party of China’s National Congress and midterm elections in the United States. So the exact timing is unclear, but it appears North Korea is ready to launch the test. It’ll just be a matter of when it would make the most sense for them politically, plus whatever technical issues might arise.

JIMMY: Well, considering all that, what do you think folks should be watching for next?

VIVIAN: So we’ll probably keep seeing more weapons tests in general. Just before recording this podcast we found out North Korea fired some long-range strategic cruise missiles over its western sea as part of its tactical nuclear program, so. North Korea might also be prepared to launch new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, according to a South Korean defense official. As for the nuclear test, if or when it happens, the first report will likely show up as an artificial earthquake in or near Punggye-ri in North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province. And we’ll probably hear about that first from South Korea’s weather agency.

JIMMY: Well, Vivian, I think we’ll leave it there for today, but thank you so much for taking the time to get us all up to speed. I suspect this won’t be the last time we’ll talk about this. Appreciate your insight. 

JIMMY: Thanks for having me on, Jimmy.

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Awais Ahmad, Alex Moore and Jess Fino. Our interview featured editor Vivian Wang and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com.

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

Copyright © 2022 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches over a missile test at an undisclosed location in a photo released Oct. 10, 2022, by North Korea’s government (Photo: KCNA)

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