Exactly four days after Moon Jae-un assumed office as President of South Korea, his secretive, yet hostile, counterpart across the demilitarized zone has upped the ante, this time with nuclear potential.
By supervising last Sunday’s brazen show of military might, Kim Jong-un has accorded short shrift to Moon’s overtures for a new phase of diplomatic engagement, one that was advanced even before he assumed office.
Pyongyang has informed the world, notably the US and South Korea, that the test of a mid-to-long range missile was aimed at verifying what it calls the capability to carry a “large-scale, heavy nuclear warhead.”
Posturing has seldom been so robust and can be contextualised with the change of guard in Seoul. Indeed, Washington has described the test as a message to South Korea, days after its new President took office pledging to engage Pyongyang in dialogue.
Kim has utilised the opportunity to accuse the United States of “browbeating” countries that “have no nukes” and warned Washington not to misjudge the reality that its mainland is in the North’s “sighting range for strike”.
“If the US awkwardly attempts to provoke the DPRK,” Kim said, “it will not escape from the biggest disaster in history.”
Implicit was the warning to the US that it has all powerful means for a retaliatory strike. If the message relayed by Pyongyang’s KCNA news agency is any indication, the missile was a Hwasong-12 that is “capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead”.
North Korea is believed to be developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching mainland United States.
However, the US military’s Pacific command has said the type of missile that was fired was “not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile”.
The comity of nations now looks forward to the Security Council’s meeting to discuss North Korea’s latest missile launch. It is significant that the meeting has been called at the request of the United States and its allies ~ South Korea and Japan.
The development has already provoked an acerbic reaction from the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley ~ “You first have to get into Kim Jong-un’s head, which is, he’s in a state of paranoia, he’s incredibly concerned about anything and everything around him.”
Haley has hit the bull’s eye, and the chief regret must be that any hope of a paradigm shift in relations between the South and the North has floundered in the span of a week.
And it has floundered on the missile launchpad. “North Korea’s latest successful missile test represents a level of performance never before seen from a North Korean missile,” was the grim prognosis of the Washington-based monitoring project, “38 North”.