Missile launch is North Korea’s message: the status quo in US relations is not sustainable
Frederick Carriere, Research Professor at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and Senior Fellow at the Korean Peninsula Affairs Council, offers insight on the current US-Korea relations and threats poised by North Korea’s ICBM development. Professor Carriere is available to speak to media on this issue and is currently in South Korea for most of July.
Professor Carriere’s comments are as follows:
“The launch on July 4th of what North Korea claims was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was a deliberate and pointed message to the U.S. that the status quo in U.S.-North Korea relations is not sustainable. Even if North Korea’s claim about the type of missile launched is judged to be dubious – as some experts argue – the long-range implications of North Korea’s missile testing program for the U.S. are crystal clear. Namely, the North Koreans are on track to develop delivery systems for nuclear weapons that eventually will pose a potential threat to the U.S. mainland with near certainly.
Still, the potential threat posed by North Korea’s ICBM development program must be kept in perspective. The implications are not as dire or immediate as alarmist pundits claim. Even if North Korea truly has succeeded already in developing a missile with an intercontinental range, as they claim, they certainly have not yet demonstrated a capacity to mount a nuclear warhead on an ICBM or to shield it from the destructive forces of the reentry phase of its trajectory. The point is not to dismiss the potential threat, but to keep it in proportion so as not to prematurely foreclose a rational exploration of appropriate countermeasures.
A potential countermeasure clearly was signaled by North Korea itself by its choice of the launch date for the ICBM test. This is not the first time that North Korea has sent the U.S. a “gift package” on an iconic national holiday. Some would interpret this as taunting behavior intended to add insult to injury, but a more empathetic interpretation is that it is a desperate call by North Korea for talks with the U.S. In fact, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, reportedly said the same day as the test that his country would never abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles “unless the U.S.’s hostile policy and nuclear threat are fundamentally cleared away.” North Korean officials made a similar statement during a Track II meeting organized by the Maxwell School in 2012.
Under the so-called strategic patience policy of the Obama administration, the U.S. consistently declined to engage North Korea in official talks aimed at trying to find a way out of the potential threat to U.S. security posed by North Korea. Actually, despite past disappointments, it really shouldn’t be a difficult choice to return to talks since there is no other acceptable countermeasure. A preemptive military strike would have devastating consequences for everyone residing on the Korean peninsula – Americans as well as Koreans – and other coercive measures such as sanctions have not solved the problem so far and probably never will do so because it is not in China’s national interest to cooperate fulsomely in their implementation.
Perhaps the July 4 ICBM test will turn out to be just what it takes to finally get talks underway again. North Korea’s first nuclear test in October 2006 galvanized the Bush administration to reverse its policy and return to talks. The ICBM test could be the functional equivalent for the Trump administration, especially since it is a course of action both President Xi of China and President Putin of Russia are strongly recommending as is President Moon of South Korea.
Pyongyang is busy brewing the coffee. Is Washington beginning to wake up and smell it?”
Please contact, Ellen James Mbuqe, director of news and PR at Syracuse University, firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-496-0551 to find a time to speak with Professor Carriere.