With its latest ballistic missile launch tests, North Korea has continued to defy repeated international condemnations and resolutions by the United Nations Security Council. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who hailed the tests last week as a success, should realize that his regime’s nuclear weapons and missiles development programs will only deepen the country’s international isolation and economic woes. Kim’s nuclear weapons policy could eventually lead to a collapse of his regime instead of making it stronger.
Pyongyang launched two Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles on June 22, which landed in the Sea of Japan. The first launch is regarded as a failure as it flew only 150 km before disintegrating. But the launch of the second missile, which flew some 400 km, is largely seen as a success. The second missile reached an altitude of more than 1,000 km — with the state-run Korean Central New Agency claiming 1, 413.6 km — before impacting the sea.
Prior to the June 22 launches, North Korea carried out five ballistic missile tests in April and May. For a country that can’t feed its own people to conduct so many ballistic missile launch tests in such a short span of time is abnormal. As the Security Council pointed out in its press statement after last week’s launches, North Korea “is diverting resources to the pursuit of ballistic missiles while” its “citizens have great unmet needs.”
In its first party congress in 36 years held in May, the Workers’ Party of Korea — whose power is supreme and even outranks the constitution — named Kim to the newly created post of chairman of the ruling party and upheld the policy of simultaneously pursuing development of nuclear weapons and economic development. This is the wrong path for North Korea to take if it wishes to become a prosperous country. It should take the criticism in the Security Council statement seriously and abandon its nuclear weapons and missiles programs.
Given Pyongyang’s position and its repeated missile tests, the United Nations will have no other choice but to have its member states strictly implement economic sanctions against the North. Kim should consider the long-term impact the sanctions will have on his country and its people. Pyongyang would be making a misjudgment if it thinks that it has ways to circumvent the sanctions and successfully pursue economic development. Kim must realize that the more destitute a county’s people are, the weaker the state’s foundation becomes. This is what happened when Eastern European states in the Soviet bloc collapsed in the early 1990s.
Assessing North Korea’s latest tests, the Defense Ministry said that the Musudan missile has “a certain degree of functions” as an intermediate-range ballistic missile and that the North’s missiles pose a serious concern to Japan’s security. John Schilling, a U.S. aerospace engineer and analyst of North Korea’s missile program, says the latest test “finally demonstrated the full performance of the missile’s propulsion system and at least a minimally functional guidance system” although “the trajectory was not representative of an operational launch and so leaves open questions about the performance of the re-entry vehicle.” If the Musudan missile becomes operational, it is expected to be capable of flying about 3,500 km, putting the United States’ Andersen Air Force Base on Guam — and its B-52 strategic bombers — within range.
In view of North Korea’s moves, the Japanese government’s National Security Council has decided to push the production and deployment of the SM-3 Block II A missile, a new sea-launched missile to counter ballistic missiles that use a high altitude trajectory. But the program will take several years before it becomes operational. Another option would be to introduce a ground-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile (THAAD). Both projects, however, may face budgetary problems.
The U.S., meanwhile, is planning to introduce the THAAD system in South Korea. North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles together with the pursuit of missile defense systems by the U.S., Japan and South Korea, and China’s naval buildup, increases the risk of an arms race in Northeast Asia. Leaders of the governments concerned as well as the U.N. Security Council need to make serious efforts to reduce regional tensions.
It is possible that international sanctions and coordinated actions by the U.S., Japan and South Korea will only persuade North Korea to step up its provocative acts. The countries concerned should continue to emphasize to Pyongyang that only by abandoning its nuclear weapons and missile programs will North Korea be able to enjoy stability and prosperity.
The Security Council statement says that its members “expressed their commitment to a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution to the situation.” The U.S. and China — the sole ally of Pyongyang — must play a leading role in these efforts.
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