No Nuclear Inhibitions

Kim Jong Un’s regime is testing a ballistic missile that can reach the U.S. territory of Guam. At the same time, the taboo against using nuclear weapons is eroding. Something is brewing.

If the U.S. displays restraint in dealing with Ukraine and Russia, it is perhaps because it is also keeping an eye on the unsettled rest of the world. In the Pacific theater of crisis, the confrontation over Taiwan is not the only thing simmering. More immediately, North Korea is demanding attention with missile tests. The Kim Jong Un regime is creating a crisis to break out of its economically disastrous situation and to amass power to extort South Korea. Kim is back.

The long-range missile test attests to the nefariousness of the regime, which willingly accepts the risks of accidents and escalation with its wild missile firings. The missiles, which have a range of 4,500 km (2,796 miles), also send a message that the target area now includes the American territory of Guam. And because North Korea declared itself to be a nuclear power just a few weeks ago, one must assume that the missile can carry a nuclear warhead. North Korea is communicating that it will also use nuclear weapons preemptively — in other words, not only in reaction to an attack. That is a real threat to the southern part of the peninsula that can be used as blackmail. The Kim regime’s goal may be not only to rid itself of U.N. sanctions but to make it impossible to defend South Korea.

North Korea could top off its series of missile firings with a test of a real nuclear weapon, just as it did in 2017, thus creating a noxious mix consistent with the current zeitgeist. The nuclear taboo is wobbling more and more; the mental threshold for using nuclear weapons is sinking dangerously low. Kim is cavalierly demonstrating how inspired he is by his uninhibited northern neighbor, Russia. And because a powerful China is showing little interest in transparency or deescalation, let alone disarmament, even after the Communist Party Congress, we cannot expect any moderation.

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