The North Koreans are experts at brinksmanship, as much as they’re neophytes at social media. In their latest provocation, the Norks have tested a new missile, its official KCNA news agency reported was called the Hwasong-12. The missile flew 787 km (nearly 500 miles) on a nearly-vertical trajectory and reached an altitude of 2,111 km (1,312 miles).
Analysts believe that the missile, fired at a lower trajectory, could have a range of about 4,500 km (about 2,800 miles), putting all of Japan, and U.S. bases in Guam within striking distance. The Norks also claimed the new missile can carry a nuclear payload.
It’s not quite an ICBM, but it’s certainly on the path to getting there.
The details reported by KCNA were largely consistent with South Korean and Japanese assessments that it flew further and higher than an intermediate-range missile (IRBM) tested in February from the same region, northwest of Pyongyang.
The new missile test exceeded expectations of what our allies and South Korea believed the hermit kingdom was capable of. That’s troubling, because it gives the North bargaining chips we didn’t think they had.
With new South Korean President Moon Jae-in advocating a policy of economic and diplomatic engagement with the North, dubbed “Sunshine 2.0,” Kim Jong-un is likely testing his counterpart’s reaction to provocation and his willingness to break with U.S. policy and President Trump.
President Moon warned Pyongyang that provocations will be met with “stern responses.” He also called for the development of the Korean Air and Missile Defense system to be used in addition to, or in lieu of, the controversial U.S. THAAD missile shield that China objects to as a threatening increase of American military capabilities in the region.
At the same time, the north indicated it would be open to direct talks with the Trump administration, “if the right conditions are set.” This echoes Trump’s statement that he would “be honored” to meet Kim, “under the right circumstances.”
That meeting might seem pretty unlikely, given the latest actions by the north. The Norks are banned from developing missiles and nuclear technology, yet continue on an accelerated course toward both.
If anything, this latest provocation may further escalate tensions and fears in the region, and destabilize an uneasy armistice that’s lasted nearly 64 years. Voice of America reported “South Korea said Monday it will send special envoys to the United States, China, Japan, Russia and Germany to discuss how to deal with the growing North Korean nuclear and missile threat.”
Clearly, the south is very concerned, despite a new liberal president. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has declared “all options for responding to future provocations must remain on the table.” That specifically includes military options. With THAAD missile defense now active, along with air and sea assets in the region, the U.S. still has plenty of cards to play.
We should not let our options get too narrow, since it appears Kim’s threats are more than just words.