September 9 Risk. Or Not. Tristan Webb on North Korean Holidays and Nuclear and Missile Tests

September 8, 2017 7:00 AM

This blog loves to see new data on North Korea, and particularly data which punctures myths. Here is one that I have blithely repeated on a number of occasions without doing the homework: “watch out for the upcoming holiday (September 9), when the North Koreans are likely to celebrate with a test.” At NKPro, Tristan Webb actually tested the proposition against a pretty lengthy list of holidays, reproduced below. The finding is simple: even if you go out to one day on either side of the test, the incidence of testing shows no statistically significant relationship with holidays. Webb does note that the North Koreans sometimes pluck a holiday out of the air (“the 107th anniversary of the Korea-Japan Annexation Treaty of 1910”!). But the fact of the matter is that there does not seem to be a holiday testing cycle; rather, factors such as the technology cycle, weather, whim and perhaps political conflicts are likely to matter.

It is that last basket on which more work should be done. It certainly appears to us that the tests have been poking the US in the eye for its tough talk. But maybe it’s just about developing the capabilities regardless of what President Trump says. There is a good academic paper in there for sure.

North Korean Holidays

  • 14 February (when Kim Jong Il was posthumously given the rank of generalissimo);
  • 16 February (Kim Jong Il’s birthday);
  • 15 April (Kim Il Sung’s birthday);
  • 25 April (foundation of the guerrilla army in 1932);
  • 1 May (labor day);
  • 19 June (Kim Jong Il’s appointment to the Central Committee of the WPK);
  • 3 July (foundation of the strategic forces in 1999);
  • 27 July (victory against the U.S. in 1953);
  • 15 August (victory against Japan in 1945);
  • 25 August (Songun day);
  • 9 September (DPRK’s Foundation Day, 1948);
  • 10 October (WPK’s Foundation Day, 1945);
  • 12 December (Constitution Day)


Robert King

I have two issues with the research.  First, it appears that the only North Korean holidays are considered in the research and analysis.  There is some (admitedlly anecdotal) evidence that the DPRK has tested missiles on or around dates that are relevant to holidays or special anniversaries that relate to the United States.  The principal "justification" for the nuclear and weapons programs is American "hostility."  Therefore, American holidays might be equally relevant.  Second, is a single day either side of a holiday a large enough window?  Some events, particularly significant numbered anniversaries, are celebrated more than a single day before or after.  As I recall the missile text in April 2012 was outside the onel-day margin for Kim Jong-il's birthday, but it was clearly part of the festivities associated with that event.  I am all for improved focus on data, but selecting that data needs to be considered carefully.  

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