North Korea has been a source of concern since it declared itself a nuclear power in 2005. It has continued to develop its weaponry and has conducted six nuclear tests so far, the most recent of which was in September 2017. Despite international pressure, the North Korean government has continued to develop its nuclear capabilities, as well as its intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile technologies.
The most recent missile to be launched by North Korea was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in July 2017. This missile was primarily a test, to assess the capability of North Korea’s long-range missiles. This raised international concerns, as North Korea had shown its ability to launch a missile as far as Alaska.
North Korea has shown no signs of stopping its missile testing and has launched several tests this year. It conducted five tests in 2018, including a launch of a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile on the 28th of May.
This launch followed several days of increased tension between the US and North Korea, after comments made by the US President Donald Trump. The launch demonstrated North Korea’s willingness to carry out its threats of launching missiles, regardless of international pressure.
The most recent missile launch by North Korea occurred on the 5th of November, 2018. The North Korean government reported that the missile had travelled a distance of 950 km. It is suspected that this missile was a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of travelling twice as far as the previous ICBM launched by North Korea.
Experts have suggested that the most recent launch was a message by North Korea to the US, aimed at demonstrating North Korea’s capability to hit the US mainland if provoked. North Korea’s missile launches, regardless of their distances, pose a significant risk to its neighbours. However, as far as international relations go, these tests also clearly state North Korean’s stance on the progress of its nuclear program.
The US is continuing to maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea, in an attempt to prevent ascending missile capabilities. However, it is clear that North Korea is willing to push further to test its capabilities and is seemingly undeterred by international pressure.
The launch of a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile by North Korea has been labelled by experts as an ‘aggressive move’.According to a statement released by the Pentagon, the US is continuing to assess North Korea’s capabilities. David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, has suggested that this newest missile is capable of reaching targets on the US mainland, including Washington DC.
Other analysts have suggested that the missile was not fired at a high enough altitude to be considered a true ICBM. Jeffery Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program, has stated that the distance may have been compromised due to the low altitude of the missile. He suggests that the missile may have had difficulty sustaining itself in the air and could have crashed in the ocean after a certain distance.
The international response to North Korea’s missile launches has largely remained the same — condemnation and attempts to seek diplomatic measures. The UN Security Council has issued multiple sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear program, but these have had minimal effect.
The South Korean government has remained in dialogue with the North Korean government, despite the most recent tests. Moon Jae-in, the South Korean President, has commented on the risks posed by the launches, however, he believes that South Korea must continue to be open to negotiations with North Korea.
The US has also remained open to diplomatic negotiations, however US President Donald Trump has repeatedly issued warnings to North Korea that any acts of aggression would be responded with ‘fire and fury’.
International Community’s Concern
The global reaction to the missile launches has been largely one of concern.The UN Security Council has expressed grave concern about the development of ballistic missiles by North Korea and continues to reaffirm its support for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
However, the international community has faced difficulties in its attempts to discourage North Korea’s missile launches. The lack of a unified voice and international consensus, as well as North Korea’s refusal to cooperate, has created a stalemate with seemingly no possible solution.
The public response to the developments of North Korea’s nuclear program and missile launches has demonstrated a fear of a potential nuclear conflict. North and South Koreans have expressed fears of a potential war, with some South Koreans even going as far as to stockpile military-grade gas masks in an attempt to protect themselves from a possible attack.
People living near the North Korea-China border have expressed fears for their safety, and the possibility of a conflict between the two states. Some have relocated further away from the border areas, whilst some are simply making preparation for a potential conflict.
The US is continuing to pursue a diplomatic solution with North Korea, however President Trump has recently labelled the attempts at talks as ‘fruitless’. He has also stated that a military option could be possible, despite the risks posed by such a solution.
South Korea has been attempting to build better relations with North Korea and has been the driving force behind the diplomatic solution. Moon Jae-in hopes to create a ‘peaceful right’ where North Korea will not feel the need to resort to weapons in order to protect itself against external threats.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has also been a proponent of a diplomatic solution. He has invited both North Korean and US officials to China in attempts to bridge the two countries.
The US and its international allies have responded to North Korea’s missile testing by imposing harsh economic sanctions on the country. These sanctions have limited the amount of goods and services available to North Korea, as well as the country’s access to the global financial system.
The sanctions have had an effect on the North Korean economy, however, its effects have been limited. North Korea has found other avenues of income, such as illegal dealings in the black market, and appears to be largely unaffected by economic pressure from outside states.
Futility of Harm-Prevention Strategies
The international community has shown a commitment to preventing further missile launches by North Korea, but so far its strategies have had little effect. The US has attempted to deploy their own interceptors to counter North Korea’s missiles, but these have been unsuccessful.
The US, China and South Korea have also implemented a series of diplomatic strategies to try and encourage North Korea to end its missile tests and nuclear program, but these have not had much success. North Korea has shown an unwillingness to cooperate with the international community and continues to pursue its own agenda.