N Korea continues to defy world

N Korea continues to defy world

North Korea’s sabre rattling with nuclear programmes and missile launches continues with no concern for international opinion.

In 2016, it conducted two nuclear tests and has launched dozens of missiles since the beginning of last year in defiance of world counsel and United Nations resolutions, and in its quest for developing a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental US. Each time, there are indications that it is making advancement in missile technology.

Why is North Korea investing so much capital in such unproductive ventures when the country needs money to feed its impoverished people? Possession of nuclear weapon is seen as the ultimate deterrence to protect its security from external attack. The presence of 26,500 US marines in South Korea, the existence of US-South Korea security alliance and the conduct of annual military drills unnerve Pyongyang.

In the latest provocative act, North Korea launched a salvo of several suspected short-range surface-to-ship cruise missiles off its east coast on June 8, 2017 in continuation of weapons launches. Such acts by Pyongyang have rattled Washington and Seoul as the North seeks to build a nuclear missile capable of reaching the continental mainland US. According to South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff, the launch came from North Korea’s eastern coastal town of Wonsan, and that the projectiles flew about 200 km with an apogee of about 2 km.

After the conservative president Park Geun-hye was impeached, elections were held and a liberal has come to power. North Korea’s sabre rattling poses new challenges to the new President Moon Jae-in even as he desires to reverse the former conservative rule’s hard-line policy and chosen a policy of engagement with the North.

Even the US is rattled and Trump administration has announced that all options, including a military strike, on the table. Trump also wants Beijing to do more to rein in the North’s weapons activities.

The missile firing of June 8 marked Pyongyang’s fifth known round since Moon took office in early May and fourth missile test in less than five weeks. It remains to be seen if Moon’s intended intensive push for easing military tensions and improving inter-Korean relations has any hope. By its acts, Pyongyang continues to defy UN warnings and US threats of possible military action.

The decision and timing of Pyongyang to launch the latest missile is significant. The projectiles were fired into waters between Japan and South Korea where US aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan participated in joint exercises with the South Korean Navy, which has just ended. It is possible that North Korea wanted to demonstrate that it has in its possession wide range of missiles that can hit participating ships in joint drills with precision strike capabilities.

Earlier on May 29, North Korea had fired a Scud-type ballis­tic missile from Wonsan. These missiles can be used against both ships and ground targets. Understandably, the US is increasingly concerned about North’s advance in missile capability, especially its intercontinental ballistic missile technology, with the US missile defence chief making his worries public.

Missile technology
The Trump administration’s aim is to deter the North from making further advance so that it does not succeed to put a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop a missile.

Though it could take several years for the North to reach that stage, the pace at which it is ma­king advance in perfecting the missile technology, the North’s possibility to succeed in its aim might not be unthinkable. Wh­ile some analysts claim that No­rth Korea has already developed the capability, others doubt such claims by the North. Trump has vowed it “won’t happen.”

In the past, the UN Security Council has imposed sanctions and further tightened with more sanctions following more nuclear tests and missile launches by North Korea. Following the missile firing on June 8, the UNSC unanimously adopted a US-drafted resolution imposing new targeted sanctions on a handful of North Korean officials and entities.

North Korea remained undeterred and slammed the latest sanctions as “mean” and vowed to press ahead with its missile and nuclear weapons programmes. Its relentless surge in weapons and missile programme is to project an image to the world that international sanctions can never subdue its resolve to be a full-fledged nuclear power with striking capability, equal to sit at the high table with other nuclear powers.

Though Trump expects China, North Korea’s sole major ally, to do more to put pressure, Beijing prefers talks and not more sanctions, though it stopped importing coal from North Korea. China has its own strategic compulsions. The US is unwilling to enter into talk unless North Korea halts its missile and nuclear tests.

There is no way this deadlock could be broken. In the meantime, tension is aggravating by the day as North Korea continues to advance its missile technology. This creates enough room for an unintended conflict whose implications could be beyond imagination.

(The writer is ICCR India Chair Visiting Professor at Reitaku University, Japan)

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