A week ago, North Korea tested another missile. It was detected by the U.S. military, which also reported that the launch failed. According to the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), “The missile is presumed to be a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.”
However, according a Business Insider report, the missile could reach Japan or the American military installations on the island of Guam, since its potential range is 1,500 to 2,400 miles. It could therefore also easily reach Beijing, the Chinese capital. This was North Korea’s seventh missile test this year, and its neighbours are getting nervous.
Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider that, “What Kim Jong Un may not appreciate fully is that these provocations may prove counterproductive.” Karako also added that, “Regardless of the discrete results of this particular test, it signals their continued resolve to get this right, meaning intermediate and longer range missiles. And they will get it right sooner or later, so we’d better be ready.”
In fact, South Korea’s military will have the unique air defense system operational by the end of 2017. And they are not the only ones. Just two days before the failed launch near the northwestern city of Kusŏng, Business Insider published the a story on a new precise camera that can capture detailed images of life in North Korea from a space station camera 250 miles above Pyongyang. If the International Space Station has a camera that’s this precise, then it isn’t hard to imagine what kind of cameras the American military satellites are using. Even more precise, no doubt.
So while North Korea is rushing to get its missiles ready, the so-called free world is also developing better means of control so that they can fight the mean, rough state. This brings to mind the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear plant a few years ago.
When it comes to North Korea, I always go to see what Andrei Lankov has to say. Lankov teaches at Kookmin University in South Korea and is usually very cynical about North Korea and about how Pyongyang is pulling the rest of the world’s legs with its nuclear tests. But this time, the long-time advocate of North Korean implosion came out with different ideas. He says that the world should give up and get used to the idea that North Korea, as it is now, will stay nuclear. Here’s why:
North Korea is not interested in promises of favourable economic cooperation or security and lessons from recent history confirm their reluctance to take such promises seriously. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya agreed in 2004 to surrender his nuclear program in exchange for economic reaches but he then ended up being killed by rebels who were supported by Western powers. In 1994, Ukraine agreed to remove the nuclear weapons it had acquired after the collapse of the Soviet Union in exchange for security guarantees from Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom, but Crimea was subsequently annexed by Russia. North Korean leaders see these examples as justification of their belief that nuclear weapons are vital for their regime’s survival.
The sanctions do not work, says Lankov, who also thinks that the only honest answer to this problem is a military operation. But even this seems to be impossible. The only country that understands North Korea well is China. “China understands that only hard pressure will work with North Korea — the kind of pressure that focuses not on economic collapse, but rather revolt. If faced with this pressure, the North Korean elite might decide that discontinuing their nuclear program constitutes a lesser risk than the political consequences of such a crisis,” says Lankov, who at the same time underlines that China would never do such a thing. It is not out of friendship, but out of fear of the consequences that might follow. “China doesn’t want civil war in a nearby nuclear-armed state, it doesn’t want a situation which might necessitate its own military and political involvement and it also doesn’t want Korea’s unification under the auspices of a successful, pro-US, democratic and nationalistic South Korea.”
Not even Washington’s stronger military presence in the region will push China to strike or convince Pyongyang to change. The only hope is a moderate, slow, long-term approach towards softening the Pyongyang regime.
But this is not what is happening at the moment. According to Sangsoo Lee and Alec Forss of the East Asia Forum, “In reaction to the tests, South Korea has closed the Kaesong Industrial Complex and resumed loudspeaker broadcasts across the Demilitarised Zone. The United States and South Korea began a series of joint military exercises on 12 March and the deployment of strategic weapons remains a possibility. Meanwhile, North Korea has terminated North–South hotlines and a patrol boat is reported to have crossed the Northern Limit Line. Further missile tests and other military actions by the North are possible.”
But with each new nuclear test, Pyongyang reinforces its nuclear status, and it will be harder to coerce or convince North Korea to denuclearize. A new strategy is needed when it comes to North Korea, and there is no doubt that this can only be done on the basis of some sort of a dialogue.