North Korea launched a new ballistic missile on Friday morning, which Japanese and South Korean reports said flew over Hokkaido, Japan before falling into the Pacific, traveling 3,700 kilometers. The launch is the first since North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and the new UN sanctions on Pyongyang.
Given the current situation, the following points need to be made clear.
North Korea has aimed to acquire nuclear and missile capabilities at all costs. Their latest tests show they can strike Guam. Emboldened by the breakthrough, North Korea will continue its research into missiles capable of reaching US territory despite warnings from the international community.
In spite of their progress, Pyongyang is unlikely to be bold enough to preemptively attack the US and its allies. This would be nothing more than suicide. It also runs contrary to the true purpose of North Korea’s missile research – to extend the life of its regime.
Though sanctions cannot put an immediate stop to North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions, the agreement reached by the UN Security Council shows the unity of the international community and coordination among major powers. A split among major countries would create space for North Korea’s military program. As long as the international community effectively manages its disputes, North Korea will be blocked from becoming a legitimate nuclear power. Any provocation that sends major countries into chaos is a political success for Pyongyang.
The challenge is how to control the complicated situation, and prevent proliferation. A nuclear-capable North Korea must be prevented from stirring up Northeast Asia and the wider region.
The US and South Korea should change their previous strategies of threats of force to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Even though sanctions might have an effect in the long run, increasing military pressure on North Korea will only do the opposite. This morning, South Korea launched two missiles in immediate response. This will only encourage the North. Does Seoul truly believe its missiles will scare Pyongyang?
The US and South Korea should make efforts to guide North Korea into a new strategic direction. An isolated North Korea will be more rational if international society treats it in a rational way.
The UN sanctions are the center of international efforts against North Korea’s missile programs, but dialogue, which is a more effective approach, is still lacking. The situation may stabilize, or could become an out-of-control disaster. Pyongyang may be a rule breaker, but the US and South Korea are the real uncertainty.