North Korea tested its new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile Tuesday, launching the missile to an altitude of around 2,800 miles (10 times higher than the International Space Station).
While the missile test landed in nearby Japanese waters, the 53-minute flight time and distance traveled confirmed that the Hermit Kingdom has the technical capability to threaten the entirety of the continental United States.
— Scott LaFoy (@wslafoy) November 28, 2017
Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea has tested dozens of ballistic missiles, thwarting international sanctions in the process. Over the past few years, North Korean missile technology (which is developed thanks to Chinese products) has rapidly advanced.
According to the state-controlled North Korean news agency, Kim Jong Un “declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power.”
Analysts remain uncertain about whether the weight of a nuclear warhead would affect the Hwasong-15’s distance, but nonetheless, North Korea has demonstrated that it poses a provable, kinetic nuclear threat to America.
Previous administrations either kicked the nuclear can down the road, or negotiated aid deals that only empowered North Korea’s position. Now, President Trump has little direct leverage against a state with a nuclear deterrent. The past ideas of appeasement and dishing out cash to calm sabre-rattling has resulted in total strategic failure.
President Trump tweeted about the situation Wednesday morning:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2017
President Trump appears to be utilizing his rapport with Chinese President Xi to convince Beijing to step up efforts to rein in North Korea. Speaking with Xi Wednesday, Trump “emphasized the need for China to use all available levers to convince North Korea to end its provocations and return to the path of denuclearization,” according to a White House statement.
Given that direct U.S. and U.N. sanctions against North Korea are almost maxed out, there’s not much the president can do to alter the course of Pyongyang’s nuclear program through sanctions alone.
In August, CR’s Daniel Horowitz put forward several strategic initiatives that the administration could embrace as a change of posture. Horowitz explains that the U.S. military strategy can dedicate more resources to the surrounding area, relocate troops, boost sanctions, and take a more aggressive approach in threatening to shoot down Pyongyang’s missile tests.
Still, given the latest developments, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the North Koreans are on the precipice of locking in a massive deterrent to military action against the regime.
There’s no easy fix. War would result in the deaths of untold innocents, and a massive humanitarian crisis. On the other hand, continuing to ignore the problem only empowers North Korea in its quest to usurp U.S. interests.
President Trump has an unenviable situation on his hands. It will be up to the White House and the defense community to find leverage in mitigating the threat caused by the dictatorship in Pyongyang.
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