Marinai della Corea del Nord con missile Pukguksong (La Presse)

How Dangerous is North Korea?

Former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton recently warned that North Korea is more dangerous than ever due to Pyongyang’s recent progress in its nuclear capabilities.

North Korea Unveils Powerful New Missile

North Korea recently introduced its latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) during the military parade on the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party last weekend. South Korea has raised concerns over its neighbor’s multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) as it could target them in an attack.

North Korea’s latest missile could be interpreted by the US as a sign to boost its missile defense systems in South Korea. Also, the military parade will prompt the Trump administration — or whoever wins the upcoming presidential election — to re-think the best way to negotiate with the communist state after the three previous summits (2018 in Singapore, February 2019 in Hanoi, and June 2019 after the G-20 summit) failed to produce results. 

‘Monster’ ICBM Missile and North Korea’s Arsenal

The military parade that displayed North Korea’s latest “monster” missile drew widespread international attention. The ICBM was carried out by a transporter erector launcher (TEL) and paraded around Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang. The TEL has 22 wheels, indicating that the ICBM is the largest North Korea has ever had.

In addition to the ICBM, North Korea also unveiled a submarine-launched ballistic missile called Pukguksong-4. Pyongyang has two types of ICBMs: the Hwasong-13 that can travel up to 5,500 km and the Hwasong-14 with a range of 10,058 km.

The Hwasong-15 — which North Korea usually relies on — was carried out by the 18-wheeled TEL. In other words, the latest ICBM is around 25 percent bigger than the Hwasong-15 which already has a considerable range of 12,874 km.

North Korea has also tested the Hwasong-14 which can reach 10,000 kilometers if launched with a maximum trajectory. With such a specification, the Hwasong-14 could be the first ICBM that could be used to hit a target as far as New York City.

Several experts have assessed these missile capabilities but vary on whether or not they can actually hit numerous targets simultaneously.

“What North Korea has shown us, what appears to be a new liquid-fueled ICBM that seems to be a derivative of what was tested back in late 2017 — known as the Hwasong-15 — is much bigger and clearly more powerful than anything in the DPRK’s arsenal,” explained Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Washington DC-based Center for the National Interest.

What Should Washington Do?

North Korea’s latest military showdown has disappointed the US and South Korea, given that both Pyongyang and Washington have yet to produce a concrete result from the three meetings between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. 

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that North Korea’s missile is a serious threat to global security and stability. Close US allies Japan and South Korea have also expressed their discontent publicly.

Trump and Kim have failed to produce a concrete result from the three meetings. However, efforts are still underway to bring North Korea to the negotiating table. Current US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said he hopes that there will be a negotiation with North Korea after the upcoming US election on November 3.

Sanctions relief could be one of the options taken by the White House to achieve peace with North Korea as well as refraining from conducting military exercises in the peninsula and increasing civil society participation. As the US election is approaching, some experts are wondering what such a policy could look like.

“Paradoxically, the next president is going to be more free to take a different approach than any past administration, so if we can make some better choices in this space I am actually pretty hopeful about where we can end up,” said Van Jackson, a senior lecturer in international relations at Victoria University of Wellington.