By William Gupton
North Korea, under the direction of Kim Jong Un, successfully conducted another nuclear missile test on Nov. 29, launching a more advanced missile over Japan for the second time this year. This test occurred amongst rising tensions between the North Korean leader and President Trump, where many in the international community are growing concerned as a result of the bombastic styles of the respective leaders.
This is the 23rd test North Korea has conducted since Feb. 16, and many analysts note that there has been significant technological development in their capabilities to construct and successfully launch missiles within this timespan. The Nov. 29 missile test featured a Hwasong-15 missile, which is considerably more advanced than previous projectiles. The Hwasong-15 meets the classification of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), theoretically making it able to strike the mainland of the United States. In response to this, the state of Hawaii is reviving its Cold War era nuclear warning alarm system in order to further prepare the state for potential threats.
While the new missile tests demonstrate a significant growth in North Korean nuclear abilities, many experts are skeptical about the consistency and quality of their nuclear technology. Although North Korea has successfully tested an ICBM, their technology is unable to consistently launch successful missiles, and their standards fall short international levels. In contrast with the world’s other nuclear powers (the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel), North Korea does not have the capability to employ nuclear weapons quickly or effectively, meaning they cannot be used for retaliatory strikes. The only circumstances by which North Korea could successfully deploy a nuclear missile is as a preemptive strike, and there is very little reason for them to do this.
Public fear of a North Korean missile strike is high, but many foreign policy experts argue the isolated nation has no reason to use the missiles aggressively. Instead, it is likely that Kim Jong Un wants nuclear capabilities as a way to gain a more significant recognition as a figure on the international stage. If North Korea gains comparable nuclear abilities to other nuclear nations, then they could demand more authority and respect from other nations. Furthermore, gaining nuclear power provides strength to Kim Jong Un’s domestic rule and helps reinforce Pyongyang’s power in the region, both over its own people and over its neighbor, South Korea. Kim Jong Un has conducted more missile tests than both of his predecessors combined, suggesting a level of desperation to gain additional authority in his regime, a trend that has been consistent since he took office.
Despite harsh language from President Trump, the United States is still seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis. “I am not willing to say diplomacy has not worked,” said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “We will continue to work diplomatically.” In the President’s visit to China last month, one of his priorities was to pressure Chinese President Xi Jinping to curb North Korea’s testing. However, it does not seem that China is likely to take any additional measures to do so, and many believe the nation’s influence over North Korea to be dwindling. As a result, the United States remains the most major figure working to prevent Kim Jong Un and his nation from achieving status as a fully nuclear power.