North Korea is a country that has been a source of great geopolitical complexity and many highly debated questions in recent years. Reports of North Korea’s missile tests have caused widespread concern with countries worldwide speculating what their true intentions may be. The country’s persistent, provocative actions have had a chilling effect on surrounding countries and military analysts alike.
Recent data has shown that since Kim Jong-un came into power in 2011, North Korea has conducted more tests of ballistic missiles than during any other previous period in the country’s history. Analysts agree that the tests suggest a major development in the military capabilities of the country.
Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the Middleburg Institute of International Studies had this to say: “It is reasonably safe to say that North Korea has been testing ballistic missiles, and that some of these tests appear to be part of developing the capability to strike the United States”.
The situation has been further complicated by the United Nations Security Council’s investigations and sanctions directed towards North Korea. According to UN Resolution 1874, North Korea is prohibited from all activities associated with ballistic missiles. Nevertheless, the tests have been conducted on an almost weekly basis in recent months, suggesting that the country has other intentions in mind.
It appears that North Korea is attempting to avert international scrutiny by shrouding missile tests in ambiguity and by presenting them as civilian launches. This strategy has been employed on multiple occasions over the past few years, and has prompted neighboring countries to consider the necessity of defensive measures.
Other experts on the matter such as Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute suggest that, “It is part of a process by North Korea to develop an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).” This is a type of missile that is launched into space and is designed to carry nuclear warheads.
To further complicate the matter, many independent research initiatives are beginning to express their results, indicating how close North Korea is to developing a functional ICBM. For example, the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory recently published a study in which it asserted that North Korea may be “within a few months” of completing an ICBM capable of reaching the United States.
Despite the recent advances in North Korean missile technology, the true level of sophistication of the country’s capability to execute long-range attacks is still somewhat uncertain. The North Korean top brass has maintained a stoic silence, whilst pursuing ever-more aggressive testing programmes.
Moreover, the military superpower has repeatedly argued that the country does not have any intentions or plans to engage in any type of military confrontation with their neighbours. These redundant claims, however, are still largely treated with skepticism by the global community.
The internal politics of North Korea are often ignored when evaluating their actions and missiles programs. Analysts tend to overlook the external pressures the country is facing in determining reasons for missile tests. North Korea has recently faced nationwide disasters and record levels of poverty, leading to mass migrations of people and heightened tension.
Additionally, some believe the country pushes for the tests to divert citizen attention away from recurring internal socio-economic issues. This may force the population to focus solely on the rockets, allowing the government to control its citizens better. Such an action would create an atmosphere of national cohesion and sustainability, fortifying the regime’s grip on power.
Although some countries have acted alone in response to North Korea’s missile tests, the most effective solution relies on a collaborative approach shared by all nations. This should include a series of economic, military, and diplomatic measures, as well as reprimands against those individuals or companies providing resources to North Korea for the purpose of missile tests.
The United States has been a driving force in the pursuit of a collaborative approach. The Trump administration has sought to enter negotiations with North Korea and China to impose stricter regulations and stop the country from continuing its ballistic missile tests. More recently, the United States, South Korea and Japan have agreed to put an end to all ballistic missile tests, coordinating their efforts and diplomacy.
Pressure From China
China has a strong military presence. Reports suggest that North Korean missile tests could be monitored by the Chinese government, including their planned launches and movements. This has caused alarm among countries like Japan and South Korea, as they are in close vicinity to North Korea.
China has also been clear in stating that any missile programs conducted by North Korea must be under control and respect international law. Multiple sources have raised suspicions that China is ultimately in control of the crisis and can propose the most viable diplomatic solution.
Absence of Dialogue
The international community has shown their commitment to finding a solution to the issue of North Korean missiles, but failing to achieve any visible successes. Diplomatic deadlock and lack of dialogue has been the primary obstacle in finding an answer to North Korea’s intentions.
The current situation is a testament to the importance of an effective communication channel between conflicting countries, as unanimously voiced by United Nations delegates and international organisations. Coordinated communication has been proven to be a beneficial tool in resolving a variety of crisis’s, including the rare opportunity to agree on mutual disarmament and cooperation.
Experts suggest that the solution must be balanced, yet at the same time punishing, in order to be meaningful. Negotiations must be carried out between all sides involved and punishment against wrong-doers should be significant enough to send a clear message that such activities will not be tolerated.
Optimism For The Future
Despite the current deadlock facing North Korea, there are many reasons to remain hopeful. International society has made great strides towards understanding the motives behind North Korean missile tests and the potential implications in the past few years.
Moreover, the collaborative approach being taken by the larger countries of the world have been a positive step towards progress. As long as there is open dialogue and mutual understanding, there will always be hope that an answer to the situation can be found.