Why the next North Korea missile launch could be this Saturday

  • North Korea could launch yet another missile as soon as Saturday, Sept. 9, when the country celebrates its founding day, an analyst said
  • Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test on the same day last year
  • This past Sunday saw North Korea's sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date

North Korea could launch yet another missile as soon as Saturday when the country celebrates its founding day, hot on the heels of its biggest-to-date nuclear test.

"I think another ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] test ... could come on Sept. 9. The North Koreans love to put on a big show for their big national holiday," said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the U.S.-based Center for the National Interest.

In fact, one of the pariah state's previous nuclear trials fell on Sept. 9, 2016.

For North Korea, the timing of weapons tests is of strategic importance.

"They're going to want to get the most attention they can," Kazianis told CNBC in August. That means Pyongyang is unlikely to provoke at a time when it expects another major event to be dominating the headlines, he suggested.

The rogue nation conducted its biggest nuclear test on Sunday, saying it used an advanced hydrogen bomb much more powerful and harder to develop than the simpler types it had trialed five times previously. It claimed that the test, the latest in an increased spate of weapons experimentation under current leader Kim Jong Un, was a "perfect success."

The timing of the test appeared to be "designed to embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping," according to a note by political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. The test coincided with the kickoff an economic summit that Xi was hosting in China.

World leaders roundly condemned the nuclear test, with several calling for new sanctions on North Korea. But the country is likely to continue with the provocations, which are key components of Pyongyang's strategy to be recognized as a nuclear state and reduce U.S. support for Seoul, analysts said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un celebrating the successful test-fire of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 at an undisclosed location.
STR | AFP | Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un celebrating the successful test-fire of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 at an undisclosed location.

"North Korea has a compelling need to do these things, to be able to bully and extort South Korea," said Sung-Yoon Lee, professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

"They have a strategy, a strategic endgame, and that is to get the U.S. to abandon" South Korea, he added.

Sunday's underground test was estimated to have an explosive yield of 120 kilotons, compared with the 15 kiloton yield of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. It also caused strong tremors in North Korea.

Kazianis said another nuclear test is inevitable, and it could come in the next few months.

— CNBC's Leslie Shaffer contributed to this article.