NORTH Korea’s test of its Hwasong-14 ballistic missile is, potentially, one more step towards catastrophe in one of the world’s most perilous regions. Though it is unclear if the missile is, as Pyongyang claims, capable of hitting the United States — according to an estimate, the Hwasong-14 has a maximum trajectory 6,700 kilometres, putting only Alaska in its range — the underlying message is clear. Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles are generally reckoned to have a range of 5,500 km or more, and by any reckoning, North Korea now has one. Pyongyang had earlier put on display the Hwasong-13/KN-08, with a claimed range of 11,500 km, and the KN-14, with a claimed range of 10,000 km. It can only be a matter of time, most experts concur, before those ranges are realised. That could bring the continental United States within range of North Korea’s nuclear weapons — as soon as, that is, the country develops a warhead small enough to be fitted on to a ballistic missile. No-one knows for certain when that might be. Indeed, the prudent answer for policy-makers might well be to work on the basis that North Korea already has a missile-deliverable warhead.
President Donald Trump, who just three days ago fulminated that his patience was “running out” with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, seems to have developed second thoughts. “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life”, Trump tweeted in the wake of the test? “Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea”. There was, of course, a country conspicuously missing from that list. Neither South Korea nor Japan are in a position to act unilaterally against North Korea, for fear of Chinese retaliation; China, in turn, will not squeeze North Korea except in the face of express United States threats.
There will, of course, now be a tightening of the sanctions screws on North Korea. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his recent US visit, agreed to collaborate more closely with the global sanctions regime against Pyongyang, to which India is the second-largest exporter. These sanctions have done little to stall North Korea’s missile and nuclear programme, though. Perhaps it is time for a review of the sanctions regime, in favour of an alternative approach that would give Pyongyang tangible rewards in return for tempering its nuclear-weapons ambitions.’s irresoluteness and incoherence
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