Tuesday, July 4, 2017

North Korea tests their first ICBM

A photo of North Korea's Hwasong-14 test launch. KCNA/Reuters. 

North Korea claims that their latest missile launch was a successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Reuters. The weapon could potentially hit the United States and carry a nuclear weapon. The test confirmed that the missile could survive separation, reentry and remain in control during final approach to the target. The United States condemned the launch and is already calling for new sanctions. Annalists say that the missile may have a range of 5000 miles which would put parts of the United States mainland in range. 

My Comment:
This is a major escalation by the North Koreans. For the first time North Korea is a direct threat to the United States homeland. In the past, the North Korean regime could only hit a few of our overseas possessions and our bases in our allies countries. Now they can hit us directly, with a nuclear warhead. 

That's the theory at least. I'm not convinced that the threat is quite that bad yet. For one thing, I don't know if North Korea has a warhead small enough to fit onto the Hwasong-14 missile. They have an effective delivery system and they have nuclear devices but I don't know if they have the ability to put them together yet. Still, that should be a minor difficulty, actually developing the nukes and missiles was the hard part. 

I should also point out that even if North Korea doesn't have a working warhead yet, it's possible that they don't need one. North Korea also has a very robust and advanced chemical and biological weapons program that could be used in a warhead instead. Though a chemical or biological attack would not damage infrastructure it could certainly cause a horrific number of deaths. 

I also feel I should point out that the Hwasong-14 was launched from a vehicle, not a launchpad. Apparently North Korea has converted Chinese logging trucks into military vehicles that they can use to haul these missiles and launch them. That makes things much worse if we were ever to go to war with North Korea as these vehicles would be much harder to find than stationary launch pads. Just remember the Gulf War where coalition fighter jets were scouring the desert to try and find SCUD launchers. Most of the time it was a wasted effort. Though our technology is better now, it still makes things a lot more difficult. 

 So why is North Korea doing this? For the same reason they always do this. They want sanctions relief and foreign aid so they can prop up their government. It's something they have done dozens of times before because in the past their enemies would back down. 

That doesn't seem to be happening at this point. Donald Trump is very unlikely to back down to the North Koreans. He understands that doing so would have massive political consequences. On Twitter, Trump said that he wants this situation to end, once and for all. He's not going to back down. 

Still, I don't expect anything other than status quo ante. There will probably be more sanctions but nothing that will actually punish the regime. What we need is Chinese cooperation. It seemed for a time that after Trump's meeting with President Xi, we had it, but we did not get any results. It seems that the Chinese have gotten a case of cold feet. 

Why? Because I think they understand that out of anyone they have a lot to lose if North Korea decides to attack. Though we don't usually think of a war between North Korea and her traditional sponsor, China, it is a very real threat and one that would have a massive impact on China. China has dozens of cities in the range of North Korea's short, mid and long range missiles and no real defenses against them other than a first strike. Plus a war with North Korea would cause a huge refugee problem, get rid of their buffer state putting them on the border of a major US ally and would be hugely disruptive to their already vulnerable economy. 

So is war possible? It depends. North Korea seems to want to avoid war and the whole point of their nuclear weapons program is to make it too costly to invade. But by doing so they are inviting everyone to stop them before it gets to that point. I think the best solution for everyone is if North Korea would give up their nukes. They can keep their chemical and biological weapons for deterrence and would get rid of a major reason for war. Time will tell if the North Koreans will wise up... 

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