North Korea is a highly secretive and isolated country that very little is known about. It is widely believed to have a large military stockpile, and to have been developing nuclear weapons since the early 1990s. It is also known to have tested multiple ballistic missiles, most notably in 2017, when it tested several intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US mainland. As such, North Korea is perceived as a threat to both regional and global peace and security.
In 2019, North Korea has conducted several military activities, mostly ballistic missile tests, in the Sea of Japan and beyond. These tests have raised concerns about the country’s intentions and capabilities and have prompted international sanctions and condemnation.
In the first half of 2019, North Korea has conducted several ballistic missile tests. According to the South Korean military, North Korea has launched at least nine ballistic missiles between May and July 2019, including the Musudan medium-range ballistic missile, the SLBM submarine-launched ballistic missile, the Hwasong-14 ICBM, the Hwasong-16 IRBM, and the KN-15 short-range ballistic missile.
The launches occurred in the Sea of Japan, off the coast of the Korean peninsula, and over the east coast of the Korean peninsula. The most recent missile test occurred on July 25th and involved a new type of short-range missile.
Experts have varied views on the implications of North Korea’s missile tests in 2019. Some argue that the tests suggest North Korea is escalating its military capabilities and intensifying its nuclear capabilities. Others argue that the tests are simply a show of strength designed to pressure the international community into easing sanctions against the country.
Nuclear expert Jeffrey Lewis argued that the tests show North Korea is modernizing its missile capabilities, but is not attempting to break the rules of the international non-proliferation regime. He noted that the tests have been conducted at ranges consistent with their intended purpose, and not so far as to be considered a challenge to the US or other countries.
Given the secrecy surrounding North Korea’s military and nuclear weapons programs, it is difficult to definitively assess the purpose and implications of the country’s ballistic missile tests in 2019. However, it is clear that the tests demonstrate North Korea’s willingness to continue to engage in provocative military activity, despite international condemnation and sanctions.
The tests appear to be aimed at both pressuring the international community to relieve economic sanctions, and to demonstrate the country’s commitment to modernizing its nuclear capability. It is likely that the country will continue to engage in provocative missile tests in the near future, and it is important that the international community takes steps to de-escalate the situation and avert a potentially catastrophic outcome.
In light of North Korea’s missile tests, the international community has taken action to condemn the country’s activities and to impose further sanctions. In July 2019, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning North Korea’s tests and reaffirming its commitment to enforcing sanctions. Additionally, the US, Japan, and South Korea have all called for additional sanctions in response to North Korea’s provocations.
However, many experts argue that sanctions alone are unlikely to persuade North Korea to abandon its ballistic missile program. They argue that economic sanctions have so far failed to alter the country’s behaviour, and further diplomatic efforts, perhaps in the form of engaging in a new round of dialogue, are needed in order to make progress on denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula.
Engagement of Momentum
In recent months, there have been a number of encouraging developments which suggest that the situation on the Korean peninsula may be slowly improving. In June 2019, the leaders of North and South Korea held a historic summit at the demilitarized zone, during which they agreed to take steps towards denuclearization and peace on the peninsula. In addition, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has indicated that his country is willing to discuss its nuclear program with the US.
However, progress on denuclearization appears to be stalling, as North Korea has so far been unwilling to provide concrete details on its nuclear arsenal and has refused to commit to denuclearization. Given the deadlock in negotiations, it is likely that North Korea will continue to engage in provocative missile tests in the short-term, in an effort to step up its pressure tactics.
Options for Leaders
Given the current deadlock in negotiations, there are a number of options for international leaders to explore in order to make progress towards denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula. One option is to return to the negotiating table and engage in a new round of dialogue, in an effort to bridge the divide between the parties and reach an agreement.
Alternately, the international community could engage in a policy of containment, in an effort to limit North Korea’s missile launches and discourage further provocative behaviour. This could involve stricter sanctions and a greater commitment to regional defence and deterrence.
Actions to Control Arms Race
As North Korea shows no signs of abandoning its ballistic missile program in the short-term, it is important that the international community takes proactive measures to control the proliferation of weapons. This could involve the establishment of an arms control treaty that would limit the number of missile tests and more strictly regulate the transfer of military technology.
In addition, the international community could commit to investing in research into missile defence and defence technologies that would make an attack on another country less likely. This could include technologies such as sensor networks and other defensive systems, which would limit the effectiveness of a missile attack.
Given the deadlock in negotiations and escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, there is an urgent need for a diplomatic solution to be found. Currently, there are a number of potential solutions that could be explored.
One option is for the international community to engage in a policy of engagement, in an effort to encourage North Korea to abandon its ballistic missile program and take steps towards denuclearization. This could involve the US and other countries providing economic incentives and political concessions in exchange for North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.
Alternatively, the US and other countries could pursue a policy of coercive diplomacy, in which they increase the pressure on North Korea by engaging in further economic sanctions, while simultaneously engaging in diplomatic dialogue. This could create a situation in which North Korea is more likely to compromise and agree to a denuclearization agreement.