Early Sunday morning, an alleged Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) was launched in Sinpo, located on North Korea’s east coast. The missile didn’t get far, with reports indicating that the missile blew up on take off. However, the missile launch comes just one day after the massive military parade in Pyongyang, which celebrated the birth anniversary of the state’s founder, Kim Il-sung. The launch is being interpreted as further defiance by North Korea against the increasing pressure directed at it by the world’s superpowers. Earlier in the month another missile was launched from the same area and coincided with a summit meeting between the leaders of the United States and China to discuss North Korea’s increasingly defiant arms program.
While the USS Carl Vinson and its battle group have entered the East China Sea and is closing in on the Korean Peninsula, well placed sources in the Japanese government have reported, under the condition of anonymity, to Reuters and Kyodo news agency that several Japanese destroyers would be joining the American fleet. This is significant for two key reasons. Firstly, ever since its defeat and loss of its empire post-World War Two, Japan has largely engaged in military self-restraint and relied heavily on the United States as a source of the countries self-defence. Any talk of policies to regain some form of military self-reliance is meet with heavy domestic disapproval. Therefore, Japan’s willingness to deploy its limited military assets into a very likely combustible environment should indicate to the rest of the world, and especially Kim Jong-un how serious some of the worlds great powers are taking North Korea’s posture.
Secondly despite Donald Trumps recent tweet that although the US was more than happy to deal with North Korea by themselves, history shows the value of having allies supporting your geopolitical movements. For instance, ‘The Coalition of the Willing’ during the war in Afghanistan and Iraq played a big role in, not only aiding the US logistically, in both conflicts but more importantly, it legitimized the ideology that an aggressive incursion was needed to stop global terrorism. Japan’s presence in this Mexican standoff while useful in practical terms, is far more important in ideological terms. Primarily, it adds validity to any American claims that these actions are in support of the regional and global security. No longer is it simply Trump acting unilaterally and recklessly, but rather leading, for the moment, a bilateral security policy within the region. Secondly, Japanese support increases pressure on China to commit more forcefully to a position on North Korea. While it has slowly imposed greater economic sanctions on the Northern state, it has largely engaged in middle-ground statements of calling for peace and stability in the region. With China arguably on the verge of becoming a global superpower and certainly a great power in the Asia-Pacific region, the presence of US warships is certainly not in their interest. Xi Jinping may soon be forced to choose a more forceful stance on the issue, and it is doubtful that would be in support of North Korea.
With all this mounting international pressure, it seems absurd for Kim Jong-un to continue to display defiance. However, understanding that his domestic support and power stems from displays of brashness and overt insolence to great ‘Western’ powers, it is becoming harder to envision this situation not igniting.