North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Sunday in defiance of calls to rein in its weapons program, days after a new leader in its old rival South Korea came to power pledging to engage it in dialogue. The missile flew 700 kilometers and reached an altitude of more than 2,000 kilometers, according to officials in South Korea and Japan, further and higher than an intermediate-range missile North Korea successfully tested in February from the same region of Kusong, northwest of Pyongyang. North Korea is widely believed to be developing an intercontinental missile tipped with a nuclear weapon that is capable of reaching the United States.
A few hours before the summit between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese equivalent Xi Jinping, in Florida, the North Korean leader has ordered the launch of a KN-15 medium-range which missile which concluded its trajectory in the Sea of Japan waters, after a short flight of about 60 kilometers.
South Korea strongly condemned the new provocation of Pyongyang, and the US Defense Secretary, Rex Tillerson, coldly addressed the episode: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” The most decisive response came instead from Tokyo, speaking through Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga: “Japan can never tolerate North Korea’s repeated provocative actions. The government strictly protested and strongly condemned it. “
After five nuclear tests, two of which were conducted in 2016, today’s launch has renewed fears of the international community on the North Korean missile program. Pyongynag is still far from the objective of realizing a long-range warhead that can deliver a nuclear weapon on American soil , but analysts have speculated that the KN-15 missile was propelled by a solid propellant, easy to handle and transport, which would increase the striking capacity of the Asian regime.
The show of force occurs in the aftermath of two events that Pyongyang interpreted as serious threats. In recent days, Trump launched its warning: if China decides not to cooperate in containing the inconvenient regional ally, the US is ready to act alone against the enemy. At the same time, a joint military drill between the US, Japan and South Korea, which Pyongyang sees as a rehearsal for a possible invasion, just came to an end.
According to a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry, the actions of enemy powers are bringing the Asian Peninsula on “brink of war”.
The current crisis, which undoubtedly will be the focus of talks between Trump and Jinping, was preceded, in February, by the launch of four ballistic missiles by North Koreans who have fallen close to the Japanese coast, and from an SLBM ( Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile) launch system test that would allow Pyongyang to bring its warheads into enemy waters and have an unprecedented second-strike capability, in case of destruction of its terrestrial arsenal. However, this hypothesis, according to analysts, is currently only theoretical and years will occour before Kim Jong Un will be able to rely on such an offensive capability.
In an increasingly overheated scenario, the Chinese government try to throw water on the fire. On the eve of Jinping and Trump summit, at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, owned by the US president, a spokesman for the Beijing Foreign Ministry has denied any link between the North Korean missile launch and the meeting between the two powers, urging all actors involved to avoid any further escalation.
China, at this moment, seems to be the only force able to put a stop to the conflict between Pyongyang and its many enemies.
Whoever thought that, after the signature of the nuclear deal and the lifting of the international sanctions, Iran would have become a docile and friendly country, well, probably made a wrong calculation. Indeed, in the last weeks, we’ve seen a strong and resolute nation, aimed to restore its position in the international area and to pursue its national interests, no matter what.
The spotlight is on the Islamic Republic in particular due to its recent ballistic missile tests, which have raised new fear and concern among Western countries and the Gulf monarchies. Last month, indeed, during a military large-scale drill –codenamed Eqtedar-e-Velayet-, the Islamic Revolutin Guards Corps (IRGC) tested two ballistic missiles class Qadr, the Qadr-H and the Qadr-F. Both the missiles were launched from the heights of East Alborz Mountains, northern Iran, hitting targets on the southeast coasts of the country. According to reports, missiles have a range of 1,700 km and 2,000 km respectively.
The international reaction wasn’t long in coming. On the one hand, the condemnation of the United States and Europe, which saw tests as a breach of UNSC resolution 2231; on the other, Russia stated that these tests do not violate the mandate of the document. Even Western powers failed to raise actions against Iran at the UN. It seems that Washington later withdrew its accusation, confirming that the tests do not represent a breach of the resolution.
According to the latter, indeed, “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designated to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology…”. Questions arise whether these technologies could be able -as Israel affirms- to carry nuclear warheads. However, recent declarations from the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif state that the country does not have any missile capable of carrying this kind of warheads.
Several Iranian personalities have spoken about this topic. The Expediency Council (EC) Secretary Mohsen Rezaei stressed that the Iranian missile programme only has deterrent purposes and is aimed to exercise the country’s right to self-defence in case of an armed attack. According to the Secretary, it is easily understandable that disarm could not be an option for Iran: indeed, if the country gives up investments in defence, it would be subjected to attack and there are several enemies that could take advantage from this situation.
General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the air forces of the IRGC, has even a stricter position. The Islamic Republic will continue to strengthen defensive and missile capabilities, which ensure Iran’s security and deter enemies from attacking the country. These enemies are also the ones, which have boosted the country’s defence power for more than 30 years; and US new sanctions just confirm this idea. Missile capabilities are a matter of national security and Iran clearly states that there is no room for negotiation or compromise over it. “No wise individual will negotiate over his country’s security” said the Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araqchi.
It is clear that similar statements can raise concerns, especially among countries such as Israel and the Gulf monarchies. The first has been a target of Iran since Ayatollah Khomeini and the rhetoric of “wiping out” the Jewish country has recently come out several times. The Gulf countries do not support the economic and military growth of a country that not only aims to achieve regional hegemony but also backs and fosters several fundamentalist groups, drivers of instability in the region. Tensions are likely to arise in the coming months: it is to be seen how Arabic countries will react to an Iran not so prone to cooperation and aimed to achieve its national goals, the consequences on the relationship among these actors and the role that powers such as US and Russia could play in fostering or hampering these relations.
North Korea has taken another step towards one of its priority objectives: to create an inter-continental missile that is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and hit accurately the enemy, even thousands of kilometers away.
In the last hours in fact, the state media have spread the news that North Korea has successfully tested a new solid-fuel engine that can significantly increase the power of its missile arsenal. The test is part of a larger project, aimed at developing a long-range ballistic missile (ICBM, InterContinental Ballistic Missile), which appears to progress rapidly despite UN sanctions and the numerous warnings issued by South Korea.
After the recent nuclear tests in January, North Korea, therefore, continues to move recklessly on the ridge that divides the bellicose rhetoric against the enemies of the South and the United States and the actual developments in terms of military technology.
The national news agency, KCNA, has proudly hailed the success of the new test, which “has helped boost the power of ballistic rockets,” adding that North Korean engineers will soon be able to test new weapons “capable of striking mercilessly hostile forces “.
Even President Kim Yong-Un attended the demonstration launch, celebrating immediately its success. “This is a historic and memorable day,” he said in front of the microphones and notebooks of regime’s information.
The test actually strengthens the position of Pyongyang after that last week, according to reports by local media, launch and re-entry into the atmosphere of a ballistic missile, that could sooner or later be equipped to carry a miniaturized nuclear warhead, have been tested successfully.
The military tests, once again, was alternated by the rhetoric of provocation. On Wednesday the North has threatened to strike the presidential office of the South with a battery of large caliber rockets, adding that special army units are ready to go into action. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has decided to answer to the attempt at intimidation, ordering to increase the alert level and asking the army to be ready to respond to the “reckless provocations” by Pyongyang.
The tension on the Korean Peninsula therefore backs to rise dangerously, in a time when the Northern regime feels caught between the new sanctions imposed by the UN after the last nuclear tests, and joint military drills that the South and the US are conducting, as every year, at a short distance.
Drills that obviously alarmed Pyongyang, which considers them as “nuclear war moves” to which it must respond decisively.
Despite progress in terms of solid fuel engines, experts believe that North Korea will not be able, for many years, to threaten the United States with ICBMs. Probably part of the verbal and propagandistic escalation of Pyongyang can be connected to internal reasons. Soon it should be held the first congress of the Workers Party of North Korea after 35 years and the current leadership, represented by President Kim Yong-Un, the last of the Kim’s dynasty, needs to bring to the table some important success on the military field to reassert its legitimacy as supreme leader.