On the early morning of August 3 Kim Jong-un ordered a missile, a midrange Rodong missile, to be fired from the southern tip of Eunyul into international waters 155 miles away from northern Japan, according to Japan’s defense minister, Gen Nakatani. The 620-mile missile run was marked as the country’s second most successful launch, shadowed only by the 1998 balistic missile flight that flew over Japan’s entire country.
The act of intimidation comes a month after the United States and South Korea announced plans to establish an American missile defense system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), and a single day after South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced her firm standing on the defense system’s deployment.
In recent missile test runs, North Korea made attempts to ensure the missiles would not land near Japan’s exclusive exonomic zone, so as not to antagonize the neighboring country. This is evident by their June launch of a midrange Musudan ballistic missile, which was tipped at a sharper angle, presumably to keep it from landing near Japan.
So what made the North Korean Dictator change his mind about this particular launch? Despite its potential to be one of many of the country’s failed missile launches over the years, a culmination of factors may lead to a verdict. The first being the Obama administration’s imposed sanctions against the leader, as well as 14 of his top officials on the grounds of grave human rights’ abuses.
The 5 page report produced by the State Department details the crimes committed by major figures inside Pyongyang’s intelligence and security ministries, which include censorship, torture, killings and forced labor. The Treasury Department froze the assets of those blacklisted and barred the country from making any transactions with any U.S. citizen or entity.
Although this was not detrimental to Kim Jong-un’s operations, it would seem unnerving to have an enemy know the micro specific who’s and what’s of the country’s illegal doings. Speculatively, the report may just be a message to Kim Jong-un letting him and his buddies know he’s being closely monitored.
Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in South Korea weighs in on the potential repercussions of the sanctions, saying “In the short term, he added, the sanctions could have the opposite effect, prompting North Korea — which has behaved erratically ahead of American elections and during August, when the United States and South Korea have military exercises — to lash out further. In August and September, we’re going to see a lot of belligerent activity by North Korea.”
How far is Kim Jong-un willing to go?
The view of North Korea’s weapons and nuclear programs has always been that of a political nature, a propaganda tool to stir nationalism for its citizens and leverage respect by its peers.
When Kin Jong-il came into power in the early 1990’s and began to develop these programs, analysts, South Korea and America saw the country’s actions as purely reactive, going nowhere. The country appeared to be more focused on maintaining integrity within the global community rather than turning into a mighty military force.
Kim-Jong-il’s 2011 passing changed nothing in terms of how opposing countries viewed North Korea’s weapons programs. But North Korea and its new leader Kim Jong-un did start to do things a slightly different. They began running more tests, launching more missiles. They built an underground nuclear weapons facility and even underwent a political purge.
This new approach placed doubt on the initial assumptions of the programs goals. While some speculated North Korea would build their nuclear program up only to sell it off to the highest bidder, others saw it as a game of cat and mouse where Kim agreed to halt certain areas of the program in exchange for food or money, only to later unfreeze those same areas in anticipation of doing the exact same thing.
The growing sentiment among today’s analysts is that North Korea and its leader might not be letting go of their nuclear weapons and missile program at all.
In fact, it might actually be progressing. The June launch of the Musudan missile had failed five times before it finally launched. While this was not a completely successful missile launch by U.S. standards, it displayed progress as well as a willingness to keep moving forward.
John Schilling of the U.S. -Korea John Hopkins University, has even arrived at the conclusion that North Korea will have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile with nuclear capabilities that is able to reach the western U.S. within the next decade.
This doesn’t take into account closer potential U.S. military targets, such as the military bases in Guam, Okinawa and Seoul.
The fact that North Korea has displayed intent to try out new things under the weapons program, as evident by their July 9 launch of a ballistic missile atop a submarine, as well as Pyongyang’s claim that it will soon be able to put a man on the moon. Are these new explorations by North Korea into uncharted military territory just more bold claims to stir paranoia and fear and earn respect, or are they real attempts to close the technological gap they have carried for so long?
So is Kim Jong-un serious?
Are nuclear capabilities and eventually war against South Korea and the United States the goal? Or should these activities be categorized alongside the rest of the Communist Dictatorship’s homegrown propaganda efforts against the West?
Kim Jong-un’s seriousness of war with the West and its allies appears to be legitimate. The ability to get into a position where, technologically, starting and winning a real war against large superpowers is another feat entirely, and it remains to be seen.