Friday, March 18, 2016

North Korea launches a ballistic missile in test.

A man watches the news about the launch in South Korea. AP

North Korea has launched another medium range ballistic missile in an apparent test. Reuters. The missile was launched from a mobile launcher and traveled 500 miles before crashing into the ocean. A possible second launch was detected by radar, though it disappeared before much information could be gathered. The launch was widely condemned by leaders in Japan, The United States and, crucially, China. North Korea tends to launch missiles when confronted with closing down its nuclear weapons program or when it is under internal pressure. North Korea has just been hit with new sanctions due to its recent nuclear tests and a satellite test as well. In response to these provocations, the US is considering deploying its advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system to counter any North Korean launches. 

My Comment:
North Korea is at it again. The country somehow keeps getting into the news, this time for missile tests. These tests are largely meaningless. If you can even it call it a test. They just launched a medium range missile, which isn't a threat to the Untied States itself. It is a threat to South Korea and Japan, so this isn't a total non-issue, but not much North Korea does these days scares me. 

Yes, North Korea has nukes. And yes, they claim that they have miniaturized them enough that they can put them on a missile. I don't believe them for a second. North Korea has a long history of exaggerating there accomplishments across the board. Their nuclear weapons program isn't an exception to this rule. They definitely have nuclear weapons, but what they don't have is a delivery system. 

Even if their rockets and missiles worked properly, and half the time they don't, North Korea can't fit them onto their missiles anyways. They claim they can, but until they actually test one, I am not going to believe them. Their last test was of a supposed hydrogen bomb, but the test appeared to fail miserably, though even a failed hydrogen bomb test is rather large. They don't seem to be focusing on miniaturizing their nukes at all, just making bigger explosions. 

That isn't to say that North Korea's nukes aren't a threat. There are several unconventional ways that they could deploy these nukes. I have always said all they would need to do is load it into a ship or submarine and use that as a suicide delivery system. Doing so would cause quite a bit of damage if their nuke worked at all. They could also try the same thing using a tank or other vehicle if they could somehow get it across the DMZ. Dropping it via airplane seems rather unlike, but a possibility as well. 

Still, North Korea has little reason to nuke anyone. Kim Jong Un is many things but he isn't an idiot. Any attempt at deploying nuclear weapons would end up with him dead and his country in ruins. If, for some reason, the United States doesn't nuke North Korea in return, the rest of the world would come together and totally wreck North Korea's military. Remember, North Korea's military is a paper tiger. They have little in the way of actual weapons as most of their equipment is antiquated. And their huge military is largely underfed and under-equipped. 

Of course a war with North Korea would be an utter mess and I think that North Korea could do substantial damage to the South before the war ended in their inevitable defeat. They have a large supply of artillery, which wouldn't last very long but could do damage to Seoul. And in addition to their nukes, North Korea has a large and active chemical and even biological weapons programs, which would cause chaos before they were neutralized. Indeed, the biological weapons program is probably a much larger threat then the nuclear weapons program due to how unpredictable and deadly those weapons can be. 

So neither side in this conflict has any real reason to go to war, without the possibility of easy victory. North Korea can't defeat the South and it's allies, and the South can't beat the north without taking dramatic casualties. So why are tensions always so high? I think it is due to internal issues for North Korea. The country had a major drought last year, which put pressure on the country due to food shortages. Kim Jong Un is also not very secure in his position and has been constantly executing his higher ranking minions. 

Launching these missiles is a statement, both to the world and to the people of North Korea. The government is still in control and despite the instability in the country, they are still in charge and aren't going away anytime soon. They are also trying to remind their local enemies that these launches could be used as a bargaining chip in any negotiations. In exchange for aid or sanctions relief, North Korea could promise that they won't launch any more missiles. Of course, North Korea being what they are, they would eventually break the deal, as they have had so many times in the past.

Unfortunately for North Korea, these negotiating tactics don't seem to be working out for them this time. Instead of coming to the bargaining table, the United States has slapped sanctions on the country and the rest of the world, including China, seem to be going along with it. I think everyone is tired of North Korea's actions and if this holds then the dynamic could change. I still don't think there will be war, but who knows what would happen if North Korea gets desperate... 

Another gamechanger is the potential deployment of the United States THAAD system. These anti-missile missiles could destroy any nukes that the North Koreans manage to launch. They could even be deployed to prevent these missile tests from happening in the first place. Of course the problem is that China and Russia won't be happy if they are deployed because they could potentially counter their missiles in the theater as well. Still, I think they will get over it, because THAAD is primarily designed to counter short to mid range missiles, and not the long range ones that Russia and China would use against the US. If it does end up being deployed then the issue of North Korean nukes largely becomes academic as it would be a hard counter to any North Korean missile launches. They could still use the unconventional techniques I mentioned above, but the missile threat would be greatly reduced. 

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