13 October 2020   Leave a comment

Last Saturday, North Korea held a military parade it which it showcased what analysts believe could be a very formidable intercontinental ballistic missile. It has not test-launched the missile, although North Korea did in fact test the engines for the rockets last December at its vertical test facility. We do not know, therefore, if it actually works. But it is the largest liquid-fueled missile ever seen and could easily host multiple warheads if it were so equipped. CNN quotes several analysts about the significance of the missile:

“Analysts said the new missile is not known to have been tested, but a bigger weapon would allow North Korea to put multiple warheads on it, increasing the threat it would pose to any targeted foe.

“‘Largest *road-mobile* liquid-fueled missile anywhere, to be clear,’ tweeted Ankit Panda, senior fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“‘Liquid fuel, Huuuuge, capable of carrying MIRV nuclear warheads,’ tweeted Melissa Hanham, deputy director of Open Nuclear Network at Stanford University.

“‘What North Korea has shown us, what appears to be a new liquid-fueled ICBM that seems to be a derivative of what was tested back in late 2017, known as the Hwasong-15, is much bigger and clearly more powerful than anything in the DPRK’s arsenal,’ said Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Washington DC-based Center for the National Interest.”

The fact that the missile is liquid-fueled is important because, unlike solid-fueled missiles, liquid-fueled missiles take several hours before they can be launched which gives an adversary with satellite capabilities enough time to target the missile before it is launched. But the missile, if it is indeed operational, represents a major violation of the understanding that North Korean leader Kim reached with US President Trump in Singapore three years ago. At that meeting, North Korea promised not to test any missiles that had the capability of hitting the US mainland in return for US recognition of North Korea’s status as a nuclear-armed state. While North Korea has technically kept its promise not to test such a missile, its display of such a missile represents as serious threat to American promises to defend South Korea and Japan from a nuclear attack from North Korea. It is unlikely that the US would use nuclear weapons to defend either of the two allies if such action might lead to the deaths of millions of Americans.

Under different circumstances, one would expect the President of the United States to make an issue of North Korea’s capabilities. But President Trumps has been notably silent about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities since his last meeting with leader Kim in Hanoi. Writing in Vox, Alex Ward assesses President Trump’s North Korean strategy:

“North Korea’s display of new, dangerous weapons on Saturday made one thing perfectly clear: Over the last four years, President Donald Trump has failed to curb the nuclear threat from Pyongyang….

“Which means North Korea now has a greater ability to threaten America and its regional allies today than it did when Trump entered office. Trump is by no means the first president to fall short of reversing Pyongyang’s nuclear progress, but he’s now the latest.

“According to a source familiar with his comments, Trump has been telling White House aides he’s ‘really angry about [North Korea’s] missile parade’ and ‘really disappointed’ in Kim personally. But that same person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about internal discussions, noted Trump is unlikely to change his stance toward North Korea unless it tests a new ICBM or a nuclear device.”

The Trump strategy has essentially led to a dead-end and it is not clear that there is anything now that can be done to persuade North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons. Robert Kelly writes in the National Interest:

“There is no big bang deal to be had with North Korea at a price Washington would find acceptable. The U.S. is not going to retrench from South Korea or Japan to end the North Korean nuclear program completely. That no one is even discussing concessions on that scale tells you that the U.S. would rather live with North Korea’s nuclear weapons than make the concessions necessary to end it. So either we simply live with it, or we start searching for smaller deals. There is no other alternative.”

I guess that means that Mr. Trump will not be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his North Korean diplomacy.

Photograph of North Korea’s Newest Ballistic Missile

Posted October 13, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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