Inept provocation in the form of an alleged Musudan missile test furthered the series of threats made against the United States and South Korea on the birthday of North Korea’s founding leader, Kim II-sung.
South Korea’s Yonhap national news agency quoted government sources as saying that the missile was a type of intermediate-range ballistic missile known as a Musudan – named after the Musudan village in the northeast, where a launchpad is sited. It has an estimated range of 3,000 km, which extends to the US Army base on the Pacific island of Guam, but not as far as the mainland US.
The high tension on the Korean peninsula that has been provoked by this experiment is particularly reminiscent of the anxiety incited when Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, as well as a rocket launch a month later that was widely seen as a disguised ballistic missile test. This was, in spite of existing UN resolutions, the most recent round, of which being in 2013, that forbid North Korea from the use of any ballistic missile-related technology.
Predictably, sovereignty and self-defense were the key justifications that emerged from North Korea’s clear neglect of and indignation towards standing sanctions.
However, officials from both the United States and the South say that the launch appears to have failed.
“It was a fiery, catastrophic attempt at a launch that was not successful,” said Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, adding that the US military was still assessing the situation.
Corroborating this assessment, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency carried an unsourced report that a Musudan missile exploded in the air only a few seconds after take-off on the political anniversary.
Nonetheless, the BBC’s Stephen Evans in Seoul stated that even though the test failed, it articulates Kim Jong-un’s determination to acquire the ability to strike the United States. Accordingly, if this failure were confirmed as a Musudan test, it would inevitably fuel doubts regarding just how far the North has gone in developing a reliable nuclear delivery system.
“We call again on North Korea to refrain from actions and rhetoric that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations,” a US State Department official said.
The country is currently preparing for a much-anticipated and atypical ruling party congress next month, at which Kim Jong-un is expected to take credit for forcing the country’s nuclear weapons program through past its limitations.
While outside experts have responded to a number of these claims with skepticism, it must be acknowledged that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, alike, have made significant strides. In recent months, Pyongyang has sustained a series of accomplishments, including developing a warhead that is able to withstand atmospheric re-entry, the miniaturization of a nuclear warhead to fit on a missile, and designing a solid-fuel missile engine.
Consequently, this recent launch raises particularly pertinent questions surrounding North Korea’s threats, including how potent they really are, and whether South Korea is equipped to defend itself against a belligerent nation insistent on flexing its haphazard right of state sovereignty.
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