Can North Korea be tamed?

Courier Asks
Wednesday, August 30th, 2017


Continuing to provoke the international community, North Korea this week tested a missile by flying it over the Japanese island of Hokkaido before crashing into the sea, a move Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called an “unprecedented” threat to his country and US President Donald Trump said was an act of “contempt”.


Mr Abe said he had spoken to the US president and they agreed to increase pressure on North Korea. The Pentagon meanwhile said the launch did not represent a threat to the US itself but that the military was working to gather more intelligence about it.


“The launch occurred in the vicinity of Sunan Air Base, North Korea and flew east … The ballistic missile overflew the territory of northern Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean approximately 500 nautical miles east of Japan,” a Pentagon statement said.


The launch comes as the US and South Korea conduct joint military drills on the peninsula and a day after drills ended between the US and Japan on the northern island of Hokkaido.


North Korea has conducted a flurry of missile tests recently amid growing international unease. This is the first time it has fired what is thought to be a ballistic weapon over Japan. On the two previous occasions its rockets crossed Japan – in 1998 and 2009 – North Korea said they were for satellite launch vehicles, and therefore not weapons, reported the BBC.


It was only weeks ago that Trump warned of “fire and fury” if Kim Jong-un overtly threatens the United States or launches missiles against the US territory of Guam – allowing Kim to later assume a position from which he seemed to almost spare the US overseas territory, much to Trump’s relief, as he was moved to describe the ‘decision’ as wise and inspired.


Dating from his insurgent campaigning days to get to the White House, Trump has insisted he is open to talk to Kim across a table, and after getting elected surmised for a young man, Kim must be a ‘smart cookie’. Yet it is unclear how useful diplomacy can be as a tool for moderating regional tensions, even if Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other senior Trump administration officials have stressed its importance.


Besides, the last meaningful discussions, between Pyongyang and a cluster on the other side including the US, Russia and Japan, and the North’s strongest friend China, fell through in 2009. Kim Jong-un, who took over in 2011, has during his reign displayed very little appetite for being hamstrung by getting into a negotiation process.


The persistent missile tests throughout the summer show the regime in Pyongyang is not intimidated by American threats or bluster and has most certainly not “backed down”, as President Trump suggested two weeks ago.


Meanwhile economically, the UN and several nations already have sanctions in place against North Korea, targeting its weapons programme and financial ability to function abroad. Food aid to North Korea – which relies on donations to feed its people – has fallen in recent years as tensions have risen. But sanctions hardly seem to matter when a nation is already as isolated from the international community, existing almost unto itself. They definitely don’t seem to be slowing down North Korea’s ability to move forward on the military front. Although no-one can admit it, they might just have to live with it.



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