North Korea has long relied on its nuclear missiles as an effective way of keeping foes, namely the United States, South Korea, and Japan at bay. This strategy has proved largely effective and has allowed the regime to remain the world’s strangest cult of personality, built on the back of some of the world’s most egregious human rights violations. What has largely been used as defensive technology may now be capable of being retooled and used offensively on American soil.
From the first time ever, North Korea has successfully tested an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the United States mainland, specifically Alaska.
For decades North Korean military technology has proved to be an effective defensive strategy, but since Kim Jung Un took power they have at least tried to convey the potential of outside force. Kim Jung Un drastically ramped up missile testing and this has enabled North Korea to quickly develop technology capable of sending their missiles to the United States, significantly farther than South Korea or Japan who have been targets for decades. It’s not at all outrageous to think in perhaps months North Korean technology could improve to the point that a range long enough to reach parts of Alaska becomes the west coast.
On top of that these ICMBM’s could easily be used to deliver a nuclear weapon, the next step in North Korea’s long term strategy.
The fact that North Korea has large parts of its conventional weapons arsenal already pointed at Seoul has long kept the United States from embarking down a path towards a military solution. However, a nuclear North Korea capable of sending a nuclear armed ICBM to the United States would have to change the calculation considerably. For decades the threat of an attack on Seoul, Tokyo, or anywhere else in South Korea or Japan, has proved enough for the international community to take North Korean sabre rattling seriously. If major cities in the United States are within range of North Korean missiles those threats may be even more effective. On the other hand getting closer to being able to threaten the United States may change the long unspoken rule that any military excursion on the Korean peninsula would be simply too costly to be worth it.
If Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle could all be destroyed by Korean nuclear weapons that is a threat the United States would have to take far more seriously than the current threat of devastation in Seoul or some other foreign city. The tension is increasing and the further North Korea pushes it becomes increasingly likely that prevailing view on how to solve the North Korean problem will shift away from diplomacy and sanctions and towards military intervention.
Donald Trump has tweeted regarding the situation and seemed to signal he believed China had inadequately dealt with the problem. Increased Chinese intervention is one of the only avenues for changed not already relentlessly pursued, but economic instability in North Korea could potentially lead to a refugee crisis China would rather not deal with. Trump’s tweet highlighted how trade into North Korea had not dropped and suggested a new strategy might be necessary.
It’s difficult to say what is next, but as North Korea continues to push the envelope and develops technology that can target the United States, tensions will rise. Any flare could be catastrophic for millions of people on the Korean peninsula. Diplomacy can only go so far though and it seems some in the United States government are running out of patience with the North Korean regime.