North Korea’s missile tests. North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan early on Friday. The first, which traveled an estimated 430 kilometers (270 miles) at an altitude of just around 50 kilometers, appears to be another KN-23 – the solid-fueled missile that Pyongyang first tested back in May. This particular missile is important for two reasons. First, it represents another step forward in North Korea’s effort to develop missiles with solid-fuel engines, which are much easier to move, camouflage and launch quickly – and which could have major implications for its development of submarine-launched ballistic missiles. (It’s notable that the test came just two days after North Korean state media showed Kim Jong Un checking in on the construction of a new submarine.) Second, the KN-23 is believed to be a clone of Russia’s Iskander missiles, which can fly on a low trajectory with a greater degree of maneuverability than most ballistic missiles, posing major challenges for missile defense systems. Notably, the second missile, which flew some 690 kilometers, is a new type of missile. It flew at the same altitude at the first, but with the range to potentially put U.S. bases in Japan in the crosshairs. It’s tempting to interpret every North Korean missile test as intended to increase pressure on the Trump administration in the nuclear negotiations. And, indeed, this one came as U.S. national security adviser John Bolton was visiting South Korea, and it follows North Korean grousing about upcoming U.S.-South Korean military exercises and frustration over U.S. inaction on sanctions relief. But North Korea has practical reasons to do these tests, which are critical to the development of more sophisticated missiles. And after the May tests, the U.S. effectively made it clear that so long as it doesn’t test intercontinental ballistic missiles, Pyongyang is free to test as many shorter-range missiles as it likes.

Italy’s budget. The Italian government is accelerating plans for its 2020 budget, aiming to get a draft done well in advance of the European Union’s mid-October deadline, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday. Conte also said the government was trying to avoid having to increase the value-added tax as mandated by a safeguard clause intended to keep the budget deficit in check. Instead, Rome will count on higher tax revenue while cutting spending and reviewing tax incentives. This was all to be expected. What’s surprising, however, is that League party chief and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini seems already to be paving the way for a retreat on his party’s proposal to implement a flat tax next year. Earlier this month, Corriere della Sera reported that the proposed 15 percent flat tax rate might apply only to “incremental income” – income that exceeds an individual’s reported income of the previous year. In an interview with Il Sole 24 Ore published Thursday, Salvini acknowledged that the flat tax could not be implemented right now, saying, “We can’t do everything for everyone right away.” Another standoff is sure to come later this year between the European Commission and the Italian government on the 2020 budget – which may be why the government is talking about moving up the drafting process – but it’s odd to see Rome already apparently softening its position.

Britain’s new prime minister. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson isn’t easing quietly into his new post. On Wednesday, surrounded by his new Cabinet – featuring 17 new ministers, most of them hard-line Brexiteers – he pledged to deliver Brexit within 99 days, “no ifs, no buts,” and ordered the government to prepare for a no-deal scenario. With Parliament able to block a no deal or call a no-confidence vote, he’s unlikely to be able to convince Brussels of his willingness or ability to crash out of the union without an agreement – and thus faces long odds in getting the EU to agree to a substantially better deal than what his predecessor got. (And there’s been no reason to believe the EU would offer significant compromises anyway.) Thus, speculation is mounting that the Johnson government is eyeing new elections ahead of the self-imposed Halloween deadline. This, combined with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s renewed call for an independence referendum, suggests London will remain bogged down with internal matters for the foreseeable future.

But pressing foreign policy issues are mounting. The U.K.-led effort to form a European coalition to protect oil tankers in the Middle East is struggling to gain traction. The ability of the Royal Navy to sustain major operations abroad is in question following reports that nearly half of its fleet of frigates and destroyers is inactive due to long-term repairs. Iran is still holding a British oil tanker hostage, though on Thursday it hinted at a willingness to swap it for the Iranian tanker being held in Gibraltar. And if it’s serious about a no-deal withdrawal, London will need to scramble to have trade deals ready to ink with major economies outside Europe as soon as it leaves the bloc. This explains Johnson’s comments on Wednesday saying his government would be very pro-China and “very enthusiastic” about China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

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