North Korea’s latest missile test—that of suspected anti-ship missiles that landed in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan— sends a very clear message to America: we’re getting ready for war, if it gets to that point. So far, the North has launched 16 missiles in 10 tests so far in 2017, with Thursday’s launch reportedly designed to show off its ability to hit warships.
“We assess that North Korea intended to show off its various missile capabilities, display its precise targeting capability, in the form of armed protests against ships in regard to US Navy carrier strike groups and joint naval drills,” Roh Jae-cheon, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staffs told reporters, according to CNN.
What we don’t know is how precise the missiles they launched are. And we do not know what kind they were. So far, it appears they were land-to-ship missiles that flew about 200 km (or 124 miles) out of the North Korean coastal city of Wonsan, according to Reuters. The report goes on to say that these missiles were likely defensive and could possibly be used against opposing warships.
Given that the U.S. recently has deployed warships to the Korean peninsula, it makes perfect sense for Pyongyang to respond with testing a missile that could one day attack them—even if, at this point, such a missile attack would not be successful.
That fact that they are testing such weapons is revealing enough.
“North Korea clearly didn’t want to fire at those ships. But I think North Korea is sending a clear message to say that, ‘We see the U.S. sailing these ships off our coasts as a potential threat and we’re developing systems that could make it harder for the U.S. to do that,’” David Wright, Co-Director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told me. “So there is sort of a tit-for-tat that’s going on. People ask whether Kim Jung-un is irrational. To the extent that you’re worried about what the outside world may be doing, it seems like a fairly rational response to give someone the sense that you’re not defenseless.”
North Korea is not slowing down its missile testing, despite a new round of United Nations sanctions. Meanwhile, they’re continuing to perfecting their missile systems.
Wright said that Pyongyang and Washington are both to blame for tensions between the two countries. Moreover, A U.S. attack against the north would be disastrous. But strategically, it would not be wise for Washington to let North Korea continue testing its weapons either. Unless Washington sucks up its pride and sits down with the North Koreans, neither side can agree on a set of terms to convince Pyongyang to stop its nuclear tests or its non-stop missile launches.
Like it or not, diplomacy is the only solution.
The North does not have an ICBM that can carry a nuclear warhead, as far as we know. But, the more tests the Hermit Kingdom conducts, the greater the chance North Korea has of successfully launching one—with a nuclear warhead.
So, while we may have the inclination to respond to the recent North Korea missile test with “North Korea is just being North Korea,” don’t. Wright believes such thinking dismisses the possibility that Pyongyang’s actions, without aggressive diplomacy, could one day prove deadly.
“The more time North Korea has to develop these systems, the more time it has to develop things that can cause real problems for the U.S,” he said.