N Korea’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­bil­ity

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

North Korea de­clared yes­ter­day that the coun­try had fi­nally achieved its dream of build­ing an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, say­ing it would “fun­da­men­tally put an end to the US nu­clear war threat and black­mail”. The Hwa­song-14 ICBM reached an al­ti­tude of about 2,802 kilo­me­ters (1,741 miles) and flew 933 kilo­me­ters for 39 min­utes be­fore hit­ting a tar­get area on the sea off the east coast, the North said. Wash­ing­ton, Ja­pan and South Korea gave sim­i­lar fig­ures, and US ex­perts said the tra­jec­tory im­plied the de­vice could reach Alaska.

Py­ongyang is sub­ject to mul­ti­ple sets of United Na­tions sanc­tions over its atomic and mis­sile pro­grams, which it says it needs to pro­tect it­self against a pos­si­ble in­va­sion. It reg­u­larly is­sues blood­cur­dling threats against its “im­pe­ri­al­ist en­emy” Wash­ing­ton, and has long sought a rocket ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing a war­head to the con­ti­nen­tal United States. The progress has ac­cel­er­ated es­pe­cially af­ter young leader Kim Jong-Un took power fol­low­ing the death of his fa­ther, long­time ruler Kim Jong-Il, in 2011. The lat­est launch po­ten­tially forces a re­cal­cu­la­tion of the threat it poses. Here are five key ques­tions on the is­sue.

Is this re­ally an ICBM?

While South Korean and US armies con­firmed some de­tails of yes­ter­day’s launch, they did not im­me­di­ately de­scribe it as an ICBM. The US Pa­cific Com­mand called it a “land-based, in­ter­me­di­ate range” mis­sile, Moscow de­scribed it as “medium range” Rus­sian news agen­cies re­ported. But South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-In said Seoul was an­a­lyz­ing the re­sult of the test “with a pos­si­bil­ity of an ICBM in mind”. David Wright, of the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists, wrote on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s blog that the avail­able de­tails sug­gested a range of 6,700 kilo­me­ters, which would al­low it to “reach all of Alaska”.

What is dif­fer­ence?

The mere fact that the North has de­vel­oped this sort of weapon would mark a sig­nif­i­cant milestone. Py­ongyang has staged five atomic tests-in­clud­ing two last year-with the regime step­ping up ef­forts to pro­duce a nu­clear war­head small enough to fit into a mis­sile. With the North’s threat grow­ing sig­nif­i­cantly, pos­ses­sion of an ICBM would give Py­ongyang key lever­age to seek to squeeze more con­ces­sions from the US in po­ten­tial fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions. How­ever it may still take some time be­fore the North could re­li­ably de­ploy mul­ti­ple units of the mis­sile, said Lee Chun-Keun, a re­searcher at Science and Tech­nol­ogy Pol­icy In­sti­tute in Seoul.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity

The North is al­ready un­der a thick layer of United Na­tions and bi­lat­eral sanc­tions over its past mis­sile and nu­clear tests con­ducted in vi­o­la­tion of UN res­o­lu­tions. So the op­tion for the UN to take fur­ther ac­tion may be lim­ited-a point echoed by for­mer US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Mon­day. Obama, speak­ing in a Seoul po­lit­i­cal fo­rum, said the North was “al­ready so iso­lated” from global com­merce and fi­nance that it was dif­fi­cult for out­side sanc­tions to have a real im­pact.

“In terms of eco­nomic pres­sure... you squeeze and squeeze and squeeze, but they are not as de­pen­dent on global in­ter­ac­tions and the gov­ern­ment is not ac­count­able to its peo­ple in any way,” he said. As such, many of the strate­gies the US used to bring other na­tions, most promi­nently Iran, to ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­bles to dis­man­tle nu­clear weapons “are less avail­able” on the North, he said. One po­ten­tial op­tion would be pun­ish­ing not only the North but also firms deal­ing with the coun­try-so-called “sec­ondary sanc­tions” that could hit firms in China, the North’s top trad­ing part­ner.

The Trump fac­tor

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ear­lier dis­missed the prospect of an ICBM from the North reach­ing the US main­land, tweet­ing “It won’t hap­pen!” He took to Twit­ter to slam Kim Jong-Un over the lat­est mis­sile launch. “Does this guy have any­thing bet­ter to do with his life?” he tweeted yes­ter­day. Ten­sion has been high since Trump took power, es­pe­cially af­ter he sug­gested pos­si­ble mil­i­tary op­tion against the North. But re­cently US of­fi­cials have sug­gested such ac­tions-which could see Seoul dev­as­tated by a North­ern re­sponse-re­main a last re­sort. Could China save the day? Talks of pun­ish­ing Py­ongyang over its provo­ca­tions of­ten boil down to what China can do as the North’s eco­nomic life­line-a point re­peated by Trump yes­ter­day. “Per­haps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this non­sense once and for all!” he tweeted. —AFP

This im­age shows North Korea leader Kim Jung Un (cen­ter) watch­ing the launch of a Hwa­song-14 in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, ICBM, in North Korea’s north­west. —AP

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