North Korea: The Law of Missiles

It’s a new session of nuclear rhetoric between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Nov. 21’s missile strike by Pyongyang confirms that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic capabilities are constantly being perfected. Unfortunately, it hasn’t entered the American president’s head that he should be interested in dealing with this, and it is now too late to demand North Korea’s military denuclearization.

The intercontinental missile—the Hwasong-15—reached a record altitude of over 2,800 miles before crashing into the Sea of Japan, 600 miles from the launch site. Experts have estimated its potential range at 8,000 miles, nearly one-third of the Earth’s circumference. By comparison, the range of the U.S.-designed ballistic missile (the Minuteman) is 6,000 miles. The North Korean dictator is not deluding himself when he says that his new missile could strike anywhere in the United States. It goes without saying that this includes Canada as well.

In this way, Pyongyang adds a string to the bow of its deterrent device. Trump responds: I’ll “take care of it.” This isn’t likely to inspire confidence. Take care of it how? By promising the immediate adoption of yet another set of “major sanctions,” even though, for several reasons — not least of which is Chinese ambivalence — punitive measures applied over the past decade haven’t succeeded in crippling North Korea?

This new episode could have been avoided if Washington had not decided, 10 days ago, to reinstate North Korea to the blacklist of “state sponsors of terrorism.” But that wouldn’t have slowed down the North Korean regime’s insane nuclear output, which is all the more insane because it is done on the back of a bloodless people. Kim Jong Un is betting that the United States will end things because of his provocations, by agreeing to engage in a process of normalization, based on the recognition of North Korea as a nuclear power.

Hence, an impasse. Have the risks of a nuclear explosion increased? Clearly. In any event, it is not crazy to think that Washington will decide to launch targeted traditional strikes against North Korea. In this context, the international conference on North Korea — the contours of which are, for the time being, imprecise — which Canada and the United States announced on that Tuesday night to try to defuse the conflict, is a useful initiative. Still, to exit the current crisis, there must be diplomatic efforts much larger than those that have been deployed thus far.

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