North Korea’s latest round of missile tests has shocked even the more bullish experts on the Kim regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, placing it a few short months from testing a weapon that can put a nuclear warhead on Washington — but now more than ever the US must show resolve and not cave in to nuclear blackmail, experts say.
Mike Elleman, the senior fellow for missile defence at the Institute for International Strategic Studies told Business Insider that a recent North Korea missile launch featured a new rocket engine which improves on the earlier Musudan design that had failed countless times.
“If that’s indeed the case, and I have no reason to believe it’s not, an intercontinental ballistic missile test could happen this year,” said Elleman.
But even though North Korea could be just a few steps from testing such a missile, they have repeatedly offered to curb their tests for a seemingly small concession from the US.
Every year, the US holds joint military drills with South Korea. Every year they get a bit bigger, and every year they spook Kim Jong Un to his core.
North Korea, through Chinese diplomats, has repeatedly floated the idea of curbing their nuclear and missile testing programs if the US would just stop the frightening exercises.
According to Yun Sun, a senior associate at the Stimson Center, while the North Koreans do have a point, the US acted aggressively towards them during the Korean war, and military exercises in the past have become military conflicts, the US can’t cave in to being blackmailed by North Korea.
One reason the US can’t make this trade is international law. “What we’re doing in terms of our defence cooperation with South Korea is in no way comparable to the blatant disregard that North Korea has shown with respect to international law and international concerns repeatedly about its nuclear weapons program,” acting State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said in March.
Simply put, the US’s military drills are legal and North Korea’s nuclear testing is not. The UN has resolutions against North Korea — the only country to test nuclear devices in the 21st century — while military exercises take place all over the world without incident, for the most part.
But despite the illegal nature of their response, North Korea has legitimate security concerns. South Korean, Japanese, US, and even Chinese forces have likely thought about removing the Kim regime before.
According to Sun, it isn’t simply a legal matter keeping us from folding to North Korea. “This is a matter of principles, and should we be blackmailed out of it?” asked Sun.
If the US did drop its perfectly legal military exercises to please the Kim regime, then “what if tomorrow North Korea says we don’t like South Korea’s political system, or we don’t like the Republic of Korea-US military alliance?” asked Sun.
“It’s a matter of whether you want to create a precedent where North Korea can blackmail us to stop doing what we believe is right,” said Sun. “If the US is seen as being blackmailed by a rogue state out of something we’ve been doing for decades, it will create questions, and once that cycle starts there’s no end to it.”
Although the US did commit atrocities against North Koreans during the Korean war, that doesn’t grant them the legitimacy to develop nuclear weapons, said Sun.
While the US and North Korea differ on human rights and forms of government, the whole world can stand behind the issue of nuclear nonproliferation. If North Korea develops nukes, then what’s to stop South Korea or Japan from doing the same?
On this issue, experts speak with near unanimity — a more nuclearized world is a less safe one.
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