Background Information on North Korea
North Korea is a country located in East Asia, bordered by China and Russia to the north and South Korea to the south. It is the most secretive and isolated nation in the world. Its totalitarian rule has been positioned mostly through an intense yet unsustainable system of propaganda and military buildup. North Korea has been accused of numerous human rights violations, its government has also sanctioned multiple missile tests and nuclear activities. The United Nations has implemented multiple economic sanctions against North Korea, with the intention to place the government in a difficult position and discourage its missile and nuclear programs.
Recent Missile Tests in Japan
On August 28th, 2017, North Korea launched a ballistic missile from its northern border with China, which flew over Japan and crashed into the Pacific Ocean after a few minutes. The launch was one of the most aggressive displays of power from North Korea, raising fears among some nations that an attack was imminent. This missile, a Hwasong-12, was the third of such launched this year by North Korea and the first to ever fly over Japanese land.
In response, Japan raised its security alert and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch, saying that it was “absolutely not acceptable and severely damages the peace and international order”. Similarly, the US and South Korea exchanged responses and intelligence on the launch, warning that “strongest possible pressure” would be implemented against North Korea if provocative behavior were to continue.
North Korea’s Intent
The launch of the missile over Japan is believed to be a “signal” from North Korea to the international community, intended to display its growing military capabilities. The multi-stage missile flew for two and a half minutes longer than any other missile previously tested by North Korea and may in the future be utilized for nuclear weapons.
Analysts have argued that the ballistic missile was deliberately fired towards Japan in order to demonstrate the range of North Korea’s military technology, although no damages resulted from the launch in either Japan or South Korea. North Korea is estimated to have over one million active duty soldiers and on August 29th, 2017, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pointed out that “All the people in the country are eagerly awaiting the final victory in the stand-off with the US”.
Economic Sanctions by The United Nations
On Saturday September 9th, 2017, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted in favor of resolution 2375, which calls for the immediate enforcement of strict economic sanctions against North Korea. This resolution bans all member states to export any natural gas, condensates, or refined petroleum products to North Korea and restricts the imports of these commodities from North Korea. Furthermore, no country is to provide any vessels or aircrafts to North Korea, following a ban on vessels leaving or entering North Korea.
Some analysts have suggested that the sanctions will have limited effect due to the fact that North Korea already has such shortages of fuel and other commodities as a result of earlier sanctions. However, the sanctions might still be effective in dismantling North Korea’s missile program, if the government is unable to fund it.
North Korea’s Conflict with the West
The diplomatic stand-off between North Korea and the West has been present for years, however, tensions have been flaring in recent months due to the nuclear and missile tests conducted by North Korea. It appears as if North Korea is feeling increasingly threatened by the presence of US and South Korean military forces in the area.
Kim Jong-un has expressed an interest in continuing its nuclear and missile program, vowing to “fight any form of sanctions or pressure with an even greater resolve”. In spite of UN and unilateral sanctions, North Korea has continued to test long range ballistic missiles and there has yet to be a concrete resolution to the conflict.
Economic Impacts of Missiles in Japan
The launch of the missile over Japan has resulted in a drop in the Japanese stock market, along with an increase in government spending on air raid preparation and other civil defense measures. Many Japanese citizens have also expressed increased concerns over safety, prompting the government to be more cautious and actively manage the situation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has noted that the missile did not have any direct consequence, however, the psychological impact on citizens cannot be disregarded.
Additionally, experts warn that tourists to the region may choose to cancel their vacation plans due to the escalating tensions between North Korea and the West, thus will contribute to a further drop of the economy.
Reaction from the International Community
The launch has been met with surprise and condemnation from many nations, as relations between North Korea and the West are becoming increasingly tense and volatile. The United Nations Security Council met on August 30th, 2017, to discuss the issue and the President of the United States, Donald Trump, has stated on Twitter that “talking is not the answer”, hinting at military retaliation.
The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, expressed that “we must not give in to spiraling escalation” and called for “a dialogue with North Korea”. Similarly, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has condemned the launch, but stressed that the “situation must be managed in a peaceful and diplomatic manner”.
Analysis and Interpretation
The launch of the missile by North Korea has been interpreted differently by different countries, ranging from a demonstration of military power to an act of aggression and provocation. This has highlighted the vulnerability of the region and has caused fear among many citizens.
The economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations in response to the event may be effective in curbing the missile program of North Korea, however, further discussions are necessary in order to solve the conflict, as it is unlikely that Kim Jong-un will give up his ambitions, regardless of the pressure.
The launch of the missile over Japan is just one of many incidents that has ratcheted up the tension between North Korea and the West. While the international community has condemned the launch, North Korea’s leader remains unwavering in his ambitions, refusing to yield to the demands of the United Nations.
It remains to be seen whether diplomatic channels will be able to resolve the conflict, or if further actions will be taken. In any case, the international community must remain vigilant and strive to manage the situation.
Effects on North Korean Citizens
With a majority of the nation’s resources funneled towards military efforts, North Korean citizens are facing dire living conditions and even shortages in basic necessities such as food, fuel, and medical supplies. As a result, there is a significant amount of migrating citizens to China, fleeing in search of a better future.
International aid organizations are attempting to alleviate the situation of those in need, however, the number of people seeking assistance is increasing at an alarming rate. Furthermore, the economic sanctions imposed upon North Korea by the UN might lead to further suffering and instability in the nation.
Reactions from China
China is one of the few nations that maintains close ties with North Korea and is one of the few major contributors of economic assistance to the nation. It is obvious that China is trying to avoid conflict and maintain peace in the region by discouraging North Korea’s missile program.
China has declared support for the UN resolution after the launch of the North Korean missile, stressing the importance of a diplomatic solution while condemning the provocative behavior. However, due to its close relationship with North Korea, some analysts suggest that China might be able to exert a stronger influence on North Korean politics and consequently, their missile program.
Military Support for North Korea
The missile launch has caused renewed international attention on North Korea’s allies, particularly China and Russia, whom some suggest are providing the nation with financial and military assistance. However, it is difficult to observe the relationship between North Korea and these nations due to the secretive and isolated nature of North Korea’s totalitarian regime.
Both China and Russia have publicly denounced the missile launch, however, there have also been reports suggesting that they have helped North Korea in developing its nuclear and missile program. It appears that China and Russia are attempting to retain their influence in the region by balancing their support for North Korea with diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions between the nation and the West.
Over the past decade, the international community has institutionalized numerous regulations and treaties in order to discourage nations from such aggressive behavior. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty were two major organizations aiming to limit the production and testing of nuclear weapons.
However, despite these regulations, it is clear that some nations, such as North Korea, are still able to circumvent them in order to acquire and develop nuclear weaponry. As such, it is necessary for the international community to establish further regulations and increase their enforcement in order to prevent an escalation of tensions in the region.