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A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

North Korea’s Recent Ballistic Missile Launch: Another Foreign Policy Test for Donald Trump

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Foreign policy requires, I think, more than Donald Trump can deliver. Just now I blogged about the Muslim Brotherhood issue. Here Rick Houghton has a good Lawfare post on the North Korean missile incident, which Trump discussed with the Japanese prime minister over dinner in the public dining room aat Mar-a-Lago:

President Donald Trump assessed the state of U.S. foreign affairs during his wide-ranging Thursday press conference: “I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.”  That evaluation appeared to rely, in part, on a quagmire that has dogged successive administrations—the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea.  Just a few days earlier, on February 12, the Hermit Kingdom had defiantly launched a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan.

Although the President used the press conference as a vehicle to admonish the media and to deny accusations of wrongdoing related to his administration’s alleged contacts with the Russian Federation, Trump also sought to reassure the American public about North Korea’s bellicosity: “[W]e’ll take care of it, folks.”

The missile test proves that the North Korean threat is growing—the DPRK may soon develop the capability to reach the continental United States with nuclear weapons.  Indeed, Pyongyang remains undeterred despite numerous United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs), which prohibit the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.  This post provides background on the recent launch, pertinent UNSCRs, and North Korea’s current nuclear and missile capabilities.

Launch Details

U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) “detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean missile launch at 4:55 pm CST, Feb[ruary] 11, 2017,” 7:55 am KST, February 12.  STRATCOM assessed the weapon as “a medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missile,” which was fired from “near the northwestern city of Kusong,” and “was tracked over North Korea and into the Sea of Japan.”  The weapon traveled approximately 500 kilometers and reached an altitude of 550 kilometers.

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, which, according to Yonhap News Agency, jointly evaluated the launch with the U.S. military, stated: “The missile appears to be a modified intermediate-range Musudan ballistic missile possibly equipped with a solid fuel engine.”  The Musudan is believed to have a range of 2,500 to 4,500 kilometers and a payload capacity of 1,000 to 1,250 kilograms.  Assuming the accuracy of the range estimate, the Musudan is capable of impacting Guam.  The missile’s performance, however, is spotty—of eight North Korean test flights in 2016, only one was successful.

But some experts, notably John Schilling of 38 North, reject the assessment provided by the South Korean and U.S. militaries.  Schilling speculates that the missile is a Pukguksong-2, partly because “the trajectory of this test was not a good match for the Musudan.”  The Pukguksong-2 is believed to be a land-based variant of the submarine-launched Pukguksong-1, or KN-11, missile, which Pyongyang successfully launched in August 2016.

Significantly, the Pukguksong-2 has “a much higher degree of mobility, survivability and responsiveness” than other North Korean ballistic missiles, notably the Nodong, says Schilling.  First, unlike liquid-fueled weapons, the Pukguksong-2 is powered by solid fuel—thus, the missile does not require fuel trucks and, importantly, the weapon can be fired within five minutes’ notice.  By comparison, the logistics-heavy Nodong requires up to an hour of preparation prior to launch.   Second, it appears that the DPRK military fired the Pukguksong-2 from a tracked, rather than a wheeled, transporter-erector-launcher vehicle—meaning the missile is more mobile and robust than similar North Korean systems.  These improvements, according to Schilling, “make it much harder to find and preemptively destroy the Pukguksong-2.”

U.S. Government and Other Responses

In contrast with the President’s campaign rhetoric regarding North Korea, his response to the launch has been muted.  Administration officials notified the President of the missile test while he dined at his Mar-a-Lago compound with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.  Presumably referring to the missile test, Trump stated: “The United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.”  In a subsequent joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the President observed, “North Korea is a big, big problem and we will deal with that very strongly.”  But Trump neither acknowledged the launch nor did he advance a course of action to dissuade the DPRK from conducting additional tests.  And during Thursday’s lengthy press conference, the President appeared to mention North Korea only in passing, merely alluding to the launch.

Other U.S. government officials and entities, however, have adopted a more hostile tone towards Pyongyang.  The Pentagon, for example, assessed the launch as a “clear, grave threat” to the United States.  Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, remarked: “It is time to hold North Korea accountable—not with our words, but with our actions.”  And on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a joint release with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, which declared: “The Ministers condemned in the strongest terms North Korea’s February 12, 2017 ballistic missile test, noting North Korea’s flagrant disregard for multiple [UNSCRs] that expressly prohibit its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.”  The statement also “reiterated that the United States remains steadfast in its defense commitments to its allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan, including the commitment to provide extended deterrence, backed by the full range of its nuclear and conventional defense capabilities.”

Moreover, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2017 at 2:19 pm

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