North Korea is ratcheting up tensions between their country and the United States of America once again. The Department of Defense has confirmed that North Korea conducted a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on yesterday, July 4th. The missile, which experts believe could reach Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, is North Korea’s first successful ICBM test and, according to North Korean state media, can carry a large nuclear warhead.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calls the recent test “a new escalation of the threat” to the United States and its interests, and he could not be more accurate. The emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, scheduled for this evening, is unlikely to result in any real action. The United Nations has previously issued numerous resolutions and sanctions against North Korea in efforts to halt the country’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
While the U.N. has been successful at crafting thoughtful letters explaining just how sanctimoniously upset and disappointed the United Nations is with North Korea, the Kim regime has neither halted or slowed their development of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
Furthermore, China currently heads the Security Council and is North Korea’s primary trading partner and only ally of significance. While China has increased some diplomatic pressure after President Xi Jinping’s April meeting with President Trump, they have been reluctant to take tougher measures against their rogue neighbor.
President Trump will likely push for tougher action against North Korea at the G20 Summit, according to Reuters. Global leaders are set to discuss how to deal with North Korea’s weapons program that is, again, in violation of the sternly written letter the U.N. has drafted. While it is uncertain exactly what will come of the meeting, the tenor of this situation has changed. “The situation,” said South Korean President Moon Jae-in, “was no longer sufficient to respond to the North’s provocations by making statements.”
And they may have a point. The time for talk may soon be ending, and the successful ICBM test places added pressure on U.S. strategists. Because the North and South have been in a state of ceasefire for decades, each has planned and prepared for the likelihood of hostilities to one day resume. What exactly does that mean? Put simply, if the United States and South Korea were to reenter a shooting war with the North, the loss of life would be unlike anything in recent memory.
The primary military installations in both North and South Korea have been known for decades, and artillery and missile batteries on both sides have been trained on those locations for just as long. Once hostilities begin, missiles and artillery shells would litter the Korean sky, wreaking havoc on their targets. Even if the U.S./South Korea team-up conducted a preemptive strike, the North would retaliate. While the United States has deployed the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea, if even one short-range nuclear missile makes it to South Korea (or another U.S. ally) the result would be devastating.
If war returns to the Koreas thousands upon thousands of people will be killed. The United States has previously been able to determine its strategy with the safety of knowing that while the thousands of troops in South Korea may be in jeopardy (it is understood that in the case of war these troops are assumed lost), the U.S. mainland was safe.
North Korea’s recent test changes that certainty. North Korea’s ability to strike U.S. soil adds another layer of complexity to any wartime strategy. North Korea can now retaliate directly at the United States and not simply its assets or proxies in the region.
Diplomacy does not appear to be working, and war is the least favorable option. Any strike against the North Korean leadership needs to be swift and covert. Perhaps it is time to live up to North Korea’s claims of assassination plots.