The sudden silence of North Korea on its nuclear weapons programs, coupled with lack of activity on the missile front, has got the US defense and intelligence officials worried. They are unable to know what is brewing in the secretive state, and the uneasy calm has set off alarm bells. CNN reports that Pyongyang has not conducted any ballistic missile test for nearly two months, and there is no indication of any such test in the offing. This appears to be strange given the continuous war of words between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

In the opinion of officials, the situation could change any moment because Kim Jong-un is unpredictable, and could take the world by surprise once he resumes testing of his weapons.

The last missile test was conducted in September.

Probable reasons for the silence

There could be several reasons for this unnatural behavior of Kim Jong-un. The underground nuclear test site at Punggye-ri is believed to have suffered damages from seismic activity which could have rendered it unsuitable for further use. Hence, the teams would have to come out in the open to carry out preparatory work prior to launch for the missile tests.

Another aspect is pressure on North Korea from China, its closest ally. It is determined to implement the provisions of the UN sanctions, and Kim must have realized that such an act on the part of China would hurt his interests. Therefore, he wants to play safe and project a different image.

However, the US think-tank is cautious. It feels Kim could be planning to conduct an atmospheric nuclear test. The country usually goes ahead with its threats, and it has already threatened to launch an electromagnetic pulse EMP.

The future scenario

North Korea has made its presence felt. It has demonstrated to the world that it is a nuclear state, and cannot be ignored.

It has conducted several missile tests since February, and launched missiles without active warheads. Kim Jong-un wants to develop not only missiles but also associated items like rocket fuel, and engines apart from targeting and guidance systems. These are confidence building activities and, could pose a major threat to the United States.

Kim wants to nuke the US, and has identified a few targets in Alaska, Hawaii and Guam. The defense mechanism would have to know whether the missile is carrying a live warhead, and then decide on the mode of attack - whether to attack it on the launch pad, or shoot it down during the initial phase of flight. The reaction time to counter the threat would be in minutes, and any miscalculation would be disastrous.