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From NK to NY?

Editorial | Updated :

The latest bout of muscle-flexing has been dramatic for a cloistered country. With North Korea conducting the second ballistic missile test-launch, the ever so belligerent President Kim Jong-un has advanced a fresh challenge to President Trump, stating that it has the potential to strike at Los Angeles, Chicago and New York… and not merely Alaska which was within the range of the 4 July test.

The test ~ the second in three weeks ~ was ordered by Kim, who has been quoted as saying that the launch reaffirmed the reliability of the North’s ICBM system, indeed an ability to fire at “random regions and locations at random times… with the entire US mainland” now within range. Pretty obvious is the remarkable strategic planning by the “hermit kingdom” for an intrinsically technological mission.

There is little doubt that the test has, in the immediate perspective, served to compound the US President’s troubles at home and the resultant friction in America’s equation with Russia. President Kim has timed the launch in the immediate aftermath of the US Congress vote in favour of sanctions against North Korea, Iran, and also of course Russia. What Pyongyang calls a “serious warning” to the US can, therefore, be contextualised with recent developments in the US.

That “warning” makes it explicit that Washington has been “meaninglessly blowing its trumpet” with threats of war and stronger sanctions. In a sense, Kim can be said to have linked the recent cache of sanctions to the ICBM test.

In comparison, President Putin’s directive to America to truncate its staff in Moscow by 755 must seem a relatively mild reprisal. The missile is reported to have splashed into the East Sea/Sea of Japan after travelling 1000 km ~ very much within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Which explains why Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been as robust as President Trump while leading the international condemnation of North Korea’s latest launch. The second ICBM test-flight appears to have been timed to mark the commemoration of the end of the Korean war in 1953.

“This clearly shows the threat to our nation’s safety is severe and real,” has been Abe’s assessment of Pyongyang’s potentially nuclear posturing. Markedly, he has clothed his statement with the pledge to do “our utmost to protect the safety of the Japanese people”. Russia’s response, at another remove, has been somewhat defensive given its cordial relations with the North.

To the extent that it has disputed the US and Japanese description of the missile, saying it appeared to be a “medium-range” weapon, not an ICBM. Considering the flutter in the international roost, the comity of nations looks forward to a possible US-China joint venture to rein in North Korea.

However, the prospect doesn’t readily inspire optimism, with China telling the US not to link trade to discussions about Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.