By Sartaj Chaudhary
In an apparent attempt to demonstrate its resolve, North Korea fired a missile test last week followed by Sunday’s powerful nuclear test, claiming to have developed an advanced hydrogen bomb that could sit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile. North Korea’s rockets have crossed over Japan on two previous occasions — in 1998 and in 2009. North had warned before both launches and claimed these were for satellite/peaceful purposes.
The launch last week is being seen as the most threatening, most provocative ever; an overtly military missile over Japan. The missile flew to an altitude of 550 km before soaring eastwards — covering the whole of northern Japan (Hokkaido). It covered a distance of 2,700 km before falling into the North Pacific Ocean. It is believed that this newly developed (Hwasong-12) missile could have easily travelled double the distance.
The Japanese woke to “national missile alert” sirens. Japan is now actively preparing for conflict. South Korea dropped eight live bombs near the border with the North in an apparent show of “overwhelming force” simulating the destruction of North Korea’s leadership.
The launch appears to be the first one powerful enough to potentially carry a nuclear warhead. Nations have taken North Korea rather lightly in the past as some of their missions have failed even before launch and some did not go according to plan. This on the other hand – textbook launch!
North Korea has been mocked on several occasions as international satellites and international space agencies did not corroborate Pyongyang’s exaggerated claims of the launches. It’s different this time. Countries, including Japan, South Korea and the US, have admitted it was indeed a “perfect launch”.
North Korea has stealthily achieved what the world until now thought was way beyond its reach. Tuesday’s launch was indeed an astounding tactical surprise. North Korea should not have been allowed to reach so far in its nuclear arsenal build-up in the first place.
Sun Tzu – the great Chinese warrior/military strategist reinforced over two millennia ago the need for reconnaissance, “Only the wise use the highest intelligence for purposes of spying. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to!”
It’s a fiasco on the part of the US foreign intelligence agencies. America hasn’t been caught unaware for the first time. Dick Shelby, the then Chairman of the US Senate Committee on intelligence, called it a “colossal failure” on the CIA’s part when India set off three nuclear explosions in Pokhran (1974) one after the other – the CIA had no clue as to what on earth was happening!
It has become abundantly clear now that North Korea’s claims that it was well capable of hitting parts of the US weren’t farcical. The “Supreme Leader” (at a tender age of 33!) has warned President Trump and said, “We will reduce the White House to ashes if you fire a single bullet in our direction.”
President Trump had warned North Korea of a “major, major conflict”. In his characteristic fashion, Trump continued, “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! The United States…” (What orators lack in depth they make up for in length, says Montesquieu) That was over 4 months ago. The rogue dictator ridicules the US President’s office at every given opportunity.
Barely 24 hours after the defiant launch, the rebellious North has warned America by issuing a fresh statement claiming, “Guam is next” (Guam is a US island territory in the Western Pacific). Trump has said that the world has received North Korea’s message “loud and clear” and that all options are now on the table. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated Trump’s stance.
Japan’s hands were tied until now. After World War-II, Japan’s constitution prohibited the Japanese Self-Defence Force from any kind of attack. PM Shinzo Abe recently reinterpreted Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. It now allows the Japanese military to support allies and engage in conflict in case Japan’s survival is under threat.
The US has air as well as naval bases in both Japan and South Korea. The region has seen a military buildup in the recent past. The US has its attack submarines and aircraft carriers floating in the region. But is America willing to engage? There is no public appetite for war in America. The US is at an all-time economic low. A war with North Korea is estimated to cost a massive $3 trillion and it could take up to 10 years for normalisation and reunification with South Korea.
North Korea’s leadership would have to be absolutely mad to think they could win a war with the US, South Korea and Japan combined. It seems Pyongyang wants to send a clear message to America, “We won’t be trampled upon. We are not Iraq or Afghanistan.” A tactic, perhaps, to send a stern warning to the US in case she has any plans of invading the North.
China’s altered stance comes as no surprise. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has said that the tensions on the Korean peninsula have now reached a “tipping point”. China maintained that the US and South Korea are to blame. It criticised the two countries for their repeated military drills in the region that have put enormous pressure on the North.
It seems highly unlikely that North Korea could achieve this without the dragon’s financial help, knowhow and support. Clandestine images from inside North Korea have shown “made in China” missile launchers on several occasions. The launch is an apparent move to strain America’s relationship with Japan and South Korea, which, in turn, would pave the way for the rise of a regional superpower.
They say war is a sin, but sometimes, a necessary one. America must declare an all-out war in case all else fails. A demonstration of some kind as well as some kind of political action against North Korea should not be ruled out.
During the Cuban missile crisis, a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union was looming. Kennedy spoke from his heart, “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal!” America, if thou hast any might, prepare to show it now!