Kim Jong Un is almost ready. If nothing or no one gets in his way, he will soon have his nuclear weapon, an intercontinental missile with a 13,000 km reach (approximately 8078 miles). This is enough to detonate an atomic weapon over the White House or over Mar-a-Lago in Florida, where Donald Trump spends his weekends.
The ballistic tests that he carried out yesterday were the third and most advanced tests of the year. These tests followed a 2 1/2-month nuclear silence which Washington erroneously interpreted as a signal of North Korea’s willingness to engage in dialogue. That was according to Joseph Yun, the State Department’s representative for the North Korean conflict, who recently spoke on the topic before the Council on Foreign Relations, on Oct. 30.
Pyongyang let two occasions pass in which it would have otherwise followed its habitual use of nuclear tests as a communication system based on threats. The first of these occasions was the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, from Oct. 14 to Oct. 18. The second was Trump’s Asian tour during the first half of November in Japan, South Korea and China, during which, having fanned flames with his bravado and verbal imprudence, the U.S. president trusted that he would open diplomatic channels.
Pyongyang is only a step away from arriving at the doorway of asymmetric deterrence – North Korea only has to make the bomb smaller and put it inside a missile head. Still, Pyongyang hasn’t yet created an intercontinental missile with enough power to catapult it quite far enough without first losing steam, as happened in its last test. When North Korea obtains this capacity, it will be able to threaten any part of the world within its radius … which would include all of Europe.
A North Korea with intercontinental nuclear warheads would still be at a disadvantage in relation to the triad of nuclear powers (those which comprise the collection of nuclear armament in the world), with their bombers and strategically located submarines that can hit any corner of the planet. But, it would be able to dissuade any of these three powers – the United States, Russia, China and probably India – thanks to its asymmetric threat.
Trump has very little time to avoid the uncomfortable situation of finding himself one nuclear warhead away from Kim Jong Un – he has maybe a year. He cannot destroy North Korean installations without igniting a war on the peninsula, putting the inhabitants of Seoul at risk since their city is located very close to the border, where North Korea’s heavy artillery is located. Kim Jong Un seeks recognition of Pyongyang, of his nuclear arsenal and of the idea that the reunification of the peninsula will occur from the North.
Another option is relatively peaceful coexistence, founded on an unequal balance of power – of asymmetric power – similar to what happened during the Cold War, but on a smaller scale. It would be a defeat for the warmongering Trump who promised victory for the United States, and worse, it would be a strong push toward the proliferation of nuclear weapons in a world that is becoming ever more unstable and dangerous.