Upon Reflection: Latest North Korean missile launch

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Selected News Headlines

for the
Working Week
28 August-1 September 2017

North Korea fires missile over Japan; attack warnings sounded; launch an ‘unprecedented threat’

29 August 2017, Sydney, Australia – ABC News – This morning we learnt of another North Korean ballistic missile test. Not much is known of the missile itself so far, except for the fact that it flew over northern Japan.

This is the first time since 1998 that a DPRK missile had successfully over flown the Japanese islands. The first over flight of Japan was by a DPRK rocket that attempted to deliver a domestic satellite into orbit as a technology demonstrator. This morning’s over flight was a deliberate ‘war-like’ act.

What is remarkable about this turn of events is that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seems confident in his country’s ability to provoke the United States and its Northeast Asian allies without much overt response. International sanctions against Pyongyang have recently been tightened, but apart from that, no other action seems to be pending.

What is also remarkable is that while the US, South Korea and Japan have anti-ballistic missile systems in place and presumably operational, neither the US, South Korea nor Japan sought to intercept this missile to test not only their resolve but their technology. This says one of either two things:

  • Firstly, there is a genuine fear that shooting down a North Korean missile might well spark further escalation.
  • Secondly, that North Korea would gain major propaganda points were a US, South Korean or Japanese intercept fail to destroy a DPRK missile.

If war is not the outcome Pyongyang desires, strategic destabilization of the US position in Northeast Asia is.

By constantly challenging the US military presence in South Korea and Japan, both South Korea’s and Japan’s governments and their people will continue to question America’s commitment to their defence.

Over time, this will weaken the US alliance structure in Northeast Asia, further undermining public confidence in US power projection and deterrence. The winners of this contest of wills are China, Russia and any other state that stands against the American-led international order.

Considering that nothing short of a ruinous war would end Pyongyang’s military provocations, Washington’s options are limited. However unlikely, the Trump administration might be the only one in recent times to seriously consider actual kinetic operations against the DPRK. Watch this space…

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