North Korea launched yet another missile test on April 5th, making that the fourth missile test this year. The country has made it clear that it intends to build an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICMB) capable of reaching the US. Long have policy makers in the west brushed aside North Korea’s nuclear developments as unrealistic or unsustainable, yet perhaps we should be a little more concerned at the moment. The test on Wednesday tested a land-based version of North Korea’s submarine missile. Nuclear policy analysts are growing in concern as they think this could be part of the separate stages of the three stage long-range missile. So what do we actually know about North Korea’s nuclear program, and should we be concerned? It’s very likely that North Korea has an ICBM. We have seen mock-ups of ICBMs with different ranges in military parades over the past few years. The KN-14 and the KN-08 have the potential to reach the West Coast of the U.S., but the reliability of these missiles is questionable at best. Though we have only seen mock-ups, it would be a mistake to assume that North Korea isn’t working on developing these missiles. In fact, we are relatively sure that North Korea is building towards putting nuclear warheads on these ICBMs. Scary stuff.
So should the American people be worried? Probably no more than they have been before. As always, North Korea remains one to watch, but these developments don’t necessarily constitute an immediate threat. Still, it would be useful for the Trump administration to develop a plan in the event that North Korea achieves its long-term goal of developing nuclear weapons. Secretary Tillerson released a confusing and unassuring statement on North Korea after the latest test, saying “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea.” It’s unclear what a “new” strategy towards North Korea. We know that the administration doesn’t think that Obama’s strategy was successful, but Trump also said that NAFTA was a disaster yet the draft proposal that floated around Congress last week for renegotiating the trade agreement indicated very few changes. What Tillerson and the Trump Administration fail to realize is that previous administrations have been fairly tough on North Korea, imposing economic sanctions and military pressure to bring them to the table. Yet North Korea has sustained such coercion so far, so why would that change under President Trump? Perhaps what Tillerson means by saying that the US has spoken enough about North Korea is that it’s time for another country to start putting pressure on Pyongyang. And that country should be China. Here’s the trouble with that: you can’t simultaneously posture towards China and ask for its help; that’s not how diplomacy works. Then again, President Trump did come to power on a platform championing his ability to make deals, so who are we to question him.