With a new American national security team just coming into office, it was only a matter of time before North Korea would go “ballistic” with a menacing missile launch.
Some are surprised it took so long.
Of course, with the pace of Pyongyang’s ballistic missile testing in 2016 - the most aggressive in recent memory - this year could also be replete with a range of rocket launches from the reclusive regime.
But this new missile test isn’t something we can “blow off.”
While every North Korean missile launch isn’t a crisis - although you wouldn’t know it from some media reporting - this latest test is pretty troubling.
First, according to analysts, the shot was a success. Pyongyang is making progress on its missile program - and that’s not good news for us or our Asian allies.
Next, according to press reports, this North Korean nuclear-capable, medium-range ballistic missile is unique: It’s a solid-fueled submarine launched ballistic missile-variant (SLBM) fired from a land-based mobile launcher.
These mobile launchers are harder for an opponent to find than fixed-site launchers; solid-fuel rockets are more time-responsive to launch orders than liquid-fuel motors, since they don’t have to be “gassed up” with the volatile fuel before firing.
In other words, the new North Korea missile is reliable, agile and survivable - and, therefore, potentially more dangerous.
The other bothersome aspect of this particular launch is that while it only went 300 miles, due to a highly elevated flight path (according to Pyongyang), this missile could go a lot farther if shot on a more normal trajectory toward a target.
The missile test could’ve also been timed to coincide with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the United States to meet with President Trump. Indeed, the pair were alerted of the missile launch while together at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
North Korea is no fan of either Japan or the United States.
Pyongyang could have conducted the launch to stir the political pot - perhaps mistakenly and counter to its interests - in Seoul, too, where the South Korean president was recently impeached and new elections are due later this year.
Of course, as is often jokingly said of North Korean nuclear and missile tests, it’s that they’re timed for a specific date or event (such as a leader’s birthday) to increase their impact - except when the tests don’t correspond with a particular date or event.
Add this most recent missile test to other developments such as Pyongyang’s work on nuclear warheads, road-mobile ICBMs (KN-08/14) and the SLBMs (KN-11) and North Korea looks increasingly troublesome.
There’s also the possibility - or even probability - of North Korean cooperation with Iran on missiles. Iran has been active with some medium-range ballistic-missile test launches of its own recently.
With more than 20 North Korean ballistic missile launches in 2016 alone (the Obama administration’s final year), this single launch doesn’t need to be considered a make-or-break test for Team Trump.
That said, it’s something the new administration is going to have to deal with by at least strengthening Asian alliances, bolstering missile defenses and finding new ways to cut off North Korea’s access to money and technology for all of its programs involving weapons of mass destruction.
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