There are all sorts of news this week: tax reform; sexual misconduct (from boorish behavior to rape); an immigration policy “screaming” for reform; a Chinese president who considers himself Emperor in everything but name (maybe more, his picture now replacing Crucifixes in many homes across China), ongoing counter-terror and counter-insurgency efforts across the Middle East and North Africa, etc.
But North Korea’s newest rocket is the most serious issue; here’s why:
– The missile flew for roughly 53 minutes, traveling 2,800 miles into space, (moving down range only 600 miles). This is called a “lofted” trajectory, the rocketry equivalent of a high “pop-fly.” But, a 53-minute time-of-flight means the rocket has adequate thrust that, if fired in a more routine trajectory, it could reach the entire United States.
– The missile is large; the pictures provided showed a very large rocket on the back of a truck; bigger missile means bigger payloads, all other things being equal.
– The missile is apparently mobile, carried on a huge, 9-axle truck (a truck probably built in China) making counter-targeting much harder.
Some speculated the rocket carried no payload in order to achieve the observed flight. This speculation allows them to believe North Korea has yet to make a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on a rocket that could reach the US, and therefore the threat is still several years away.
But, we’ve miss-calculated on virtually every facet of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile program; they’ve conducted a series of weapons tests, concluding, several months ago, with a 240 kiloton detonation, and they’ve conducted a series of missile launches that have now demonstrated a complete family of missiles capable of reaching every target North Korea might want to attack.
So, now what?
It’s been said that North Korea would soon have the capability to strike the US with nuclear weapons. That should read: North Korea has the capability to strike the US. Done. Now, we’ll watch their inventory grow in size.
Second, calls to “talk to them,” are misguided. As Joshua Stanton of “Free Korea” points out, we’ve been talking for more than two decades. We talk, we offer them “carrots,” and the North keeps working on missiles and nuclear weapons. The Obama-Clinton-Kerry strategy of “strategic patience” – which included lots of talking, not only allowed these programs to advance, their strategy did nothing meaningful when Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011 and put these programs into high gear.
Third, Kim’s actions demonstrate he has zero intention of giving up any weapons. And our “friends” in Beijing recently said this nuclear crisis is a US–North Korea crisis – equally, and that they (Beijing) can offer no more help. This tells you all you need to know about how much real support to expect from the country with the closest relations to Kim. China does suggests the US suspend military exercises in South Korea in exchange for the North suspending weapons development tests; a nice ploy, if you forget that US – Republic of Korea exercises are defensive, training our combined forces to react to any North Korean aggression.
Where does that leave us?
First, North Korea is nuclear capable. We must assume they have a small, but growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, with the means to deliver them. Wishing otherwise and kicking the can down the road is a dangerous delusion.
Second, they won’t give up those weapons or the capability to manufacture them.
Third, these weapons are valuable. North Korea needs hard currency to continue buying and smuggling things past various sanctions regimes. There are some who’d like to own such weapons, and could afford the probable asking price; Iran tops the list.
Fourth, Counter-proliferation has failed. And the Korea (and China) strategies of the last three presidents have failed. We need new strategies and we need them now.
Finally, the strategy with Iran is almost certainly equally flawed. We need to develop a new Iran strategy – now, not in 20 years when we fill face an even worse problem.
We could accept the assessment they really aren’t nuclear capable “yet,” that we should be patient, wait them out. What do you think? Go with the obvious answer or trust the “experts” who got us here?
Hugh Keough observed that: “the race isn’t always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.” When it comes to North Korea, which way do you want to bet?