Approximately four hours prior to the writing of this article, North Korea made what appears to be the successful launch (reports are conflicting) of a long-range rocket. North Korean officials have said that the launch was simply to carry a satellite system into orbit, and that they had announced their intentions, but as expected, the event has caused quite a stir amongst both regional and international governments.
The White House has labeled the launch “destabilizing and provocative,” and South Korea and other nations have requested an immediate convening of the United Nations Security Council. South Korea’s president has called the launch “a challenge to world peace.” But given the fact that North Korea has a history of thumbing their military noses at the rest if the world (including their closest “friend,” China) with near immunity, is there a chance that the world body will be able to agree on a response this time?
As of the time of this writing, North Korean state TV has only said that the launch was a success (again, as was expected), but it is safe to say that whatever explanation is given, most of her neighbors and other nations have already made up their minds about the reasons behind the launch. As secretive as they can be, the DPRK has made no secret of the fact that they are striving to develop and deploy a long-range rocket capable of mounting and delivering a nuclear warhead (read: West Coast of the United States or farther inland). Just a few weeks ago, the North Koreans detonated what they claim was a hydrogen bomb in an underground test. (The jury is still out on that one, but most experts doubt the truthfulness of that boast.)
One thing that is agreed upon is that with as many failures as North Korea has experienced in their efforts to acquire nuclear capabilities (and this latest may well be one of them), one thing that the North does well is learn each time. Some experts believe that it is not an if, but a when North Korea will finally put the weapon together with the delivery system successfully.
So how much attention should we give this latest launch? The last time they launched a rocket, the United States retaliated with a show of force that included a close flyover from a B-52 long-range bomber (below) and the shuffling of naval forces. Strangely, the average polled South Korean citizen views their northern neighbors’ sabre-rattling as merely an annoyance, while their neighbor to the south, Japan, takes the moves much more seriously.
Not so surprising is the muted response from North Korea’s “big brother,” China. In the wake of past tests and provocations from the north, Beijing has largely elected to remain on the fringe, politically. It is believed that behind closed doors the Chinese government strongly cautions Pyongyang against pushing too far, but as always, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has done and will continue to do whatever he wants, consequences be damned. The United Nations Security Council has become largely a figurehead organization, and sanctions (if any more can even be imposed) levied will not be enough to halt North Korea’s pursuit of a successful long-range weapon.
So what’s left? Those countries in the immediate hot zone—South Korea, Japan, and the other nations of the Pacific Rim—stand to lose the most from any armed conflict that could result from a nuclear-emboldened North Korea. Japan has made great strides in returning to an offensive-capable military, but it would still require the aid of military partners. South Korea is in a better position to take on a North Korean offensive, but even then it would be limited.
The United States and China have long advocated for diplomacy and “reason” (used loosely in some cases), and it looks like they will remain in those roles for the foreseeable future. It is unlikely (for now) that North Korea has the capability or (here come the pitchforks and torches) the political will to kick off a war, but it remains in the world’s best interest to be prepared for the possibility that they decide to test that theory.
(Featured image: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)