North Korea has threatened the peace of Asia and the world once again.
Its testing on Wednesday of a medium-range ballistic missile that landed in Japan’s sovereign maritime zone drew protests from Japan, South Korea and the United States.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said the missile landed inside the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the 200-nautical-mile offshore area where it has exclusive claims to exploring resources. It was the first time a projectile fired from North Korea, over 600 miles away, has landed in that area.
“It imposes a serious threat to Japan’s security and it is an unforgivable act of violence toward Japan’s security,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff said in a statement that he “strongly condemns” the missile launch as a demonstration of the North’s hostile intentions.
The missile launch was carried out in defiance of an international ban brought on by the regime’s nuclear and missile programs. In addition, it comes just days after fresh sanctions were imposed by the U.S., citing human rights abuses of the worst kind. Those sanctions designate 10 of North Korea’s leaders and repressive government agencies under their control as directly responsible for systematic torture, extrajudicial killings, forced labor camps and tens of thousands of political prisoners.
This latest violation of the ban will force policymakers to review the effectiveness of their response. Is it still too little, serving merely as an irritant to the dictatorship, and a prod to further belligerence?
Statements made by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Han Son Ryol to ABC News seek to give such an impression. Ryol claimed, “It is the U.S. who provokes, it is the U.S. … who threatens DPRK with missiles … Our rocket and missile launches take place because that is the way to defend ourselves.”
He also did not fail to mention the sanctions imposed on 32-year-old dictator by inheritance Kim Jong Un, saying they had “crossed a red line,” and branded the sanctions as a “declaration of war.”
It was the usual line: the righteous pose of self-defense, coupled with defiance and more defiance.
The U.S. reaction was more subdued than that of Japan and South Korea, but there was no indication of any backing down.
The senior U.S. commander in South Korea, Gen. Vincent Brooks, defended the plan for deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, known as THAAD, which has been denounced by North Korea as a “provocation.” “We need to increase the layers of air and missile defense to counter the growing arsenal of missiles in North Korea,” Brooks said at a meeting on Tuesday of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, a think tank.
The Pentagon suggested that North Korea leave off its military muscle-flexing and “focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its commitments and international obligations.”
The North’s saber-rattling will not rattle Washington. Presumably, it came as no great surprise in Washington and will not be viewed as evidence that sanctions aren’t working. Such a conclusion would be premature. As is usually the case in punitive economic and diplomatic measures, they take time to bite.
The U.S. Treasury expects that added prohibitions on business with the named and shamed will discourage some recent trade openings to the North — but it won’t register right away.
Yet, negotiations, bans and sanctions have gone on for years, and the results have not been gratifying. North Korea continues to develop its weapons, both conventional and unconventional, and there is no end in sight to the horrific oppression of its people.
The U.S. and its allies have sought, albeit unsuccessfully, to bring this rogue state into conformity with civilized norms — to cajole and coerce it, by all means possible, short of war.
What is needed now is a breakthrough with China and Russia. Both are party to the stalled six-nation talks on ending the North’s nuclear program; both are opposed to THAAD, because its powerful radar could threaten their own missile capabilities.
In particular, China’s concern that THAAD surveillance data will enable the U.S. to track and intercept its missiles are not unwarranted. However, it might be possible to persuade Beijing that the deployment won’t change the overall picture significantly, given U.S. assets already present, such as the THAAD battery on Guam, radars deployed in Japan, and space-based and ship-borne radars arrayed in the Pacific theater.
Considering Beijing’s long support for North Korea, the current tensions between Washington and Moscow, and the recent failure to work out cooperation in Syria, there are many obstacles to overcome to get both Russia and China aboard. But every effort must be made to try to contain or at least limit the grave danger posed by this rogue state that is led by a mad, brutal dictator.