India Intelligence Report

   North Korean Missiles Shake Up the World



  • North Korea tests several missiles and the long-range one fails

  • Japan calls special UNSC meeting but no consensus is expected

  • Little leverage over Pyongyang as the nation is already isolated. China claims very little influence

Disregarding threats, advice, and calls for restraint North Korea test-fired a barrage of long-range missiles capable of reaching Alaska but the world remained confused on how do deal with this crisis. The tests provoked international condemnation. It launched these tests despite being in continuing negotiation with the US and the ongoing six-country talks that includes Russia, China, Japan and South Korea and in a state of a voluntary moratorium on missile tests. The North Korean Government, being big on symbolism, chose to launch the missiles as the US was celebrating its July 4 Independence Day.

There seems to be confusion on how many missiles were actually fired. While Japan and South Korea say that 7 missiles were fired, Russia reported 10. The US gleefully asserted that the long-range Taepodong-2 missile apparently failed 40 seconds into its flight. Confirming this, Japanese and South Korean analysts say that the missiles fell into the sea separating the Korean peninsula from Japan. Experts say the Taepodong-2 has a possible range of 3,500-4,300 km (2,190-2,690 miles) and will definitely be proliferated to Pakistan and this development is of serious concern to India.

At Japan’s request, the UN Security Council is scheduled to meet to discuss the latest move and evolve options. South Korea’s military stepped up its alert level after the launch. Ahead of the meeting, the US warned North Korea against more provocative acts and said it will take necessary measures to protect itself and its allies. White House spokesman said “The United States strongly condemns these missile launches and North Korea’s unwillingness to heed calls for restraint from the international community.” The spokesman said that the tests “demonstrate North Korea’s intent to intimidate other states by developing missiles of increasingly longer ranges.” The US has been breathing fire promising to take unspecified retaliatory action against Pyongyang if it went ahead with the tests. Now that the tests are done, it is not clear what it will do. American media was highly critical of the US for raising the warning level but without a clear strategy on how to follow-through with their warning. The only response was a vague “We are consulting with international partners on next steps.”

China expressed concern about the tests but typically vaguely said that reaction should be “constructive” urging all parties not to aggravate tensions in the region. North Korea is an ally of China since the 1950s and seen as a prop against US-backing South Korea and Japan. The tone and timing contrasted with the condemnations issued by other world and regional powers and the grim assessments issued by China's foreign-policy community members. China provides critical fuel, food and other economic assistance to the diplomatically isolated Pyongyang Government. China is the main trading partner, and it contributes the lion's share of foreign investment into the North's struggling economy. While the Taepodong-2 missile appeared to be a complete flop, crashing after 40 seconds, Chinese analysts say that international uproar over the tests would make it even more difficult for China to juggle its North Korea ties with its hopes for smooth relations with Washington and its partners. They say that the failure only shows that Pyongyang has not made any technical progress in the last 10 years.

Russia voiced grave concern over North Korea's missile tests. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement said these actions “run counter to the expectations of the international community and its efforts to strengthen peace and stability in the region and could complicate the settlement of the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula.” Apparently, two of the missiles reportedly splashed down in the sea a few dozen kilometers from Russia's Far Eastern city of Nakhodka. The North Korean ambassador in Moscow was summoned to the Foreign Ministry over the incident and told that “The launch has threatened shipping in the Pacific Ocean and violated common practices of advanced missile launch warning.” Russian spokesman said Russia would "take a most active part" in the U.N. Security Council meeting. However, a senior Russian legislator said Moscow would not support sanctions against Pyongyang. Russia acknowledges that the missile tests were a “provocation” which “seriously aggravates the situation around the Korean nuclear program.”

US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley took a simplistic view saying that the multiple firings posed no threat to US territory and that the launches might have been an attempt by Pyongyang to steal the spotlight away from Iran, which has been the main focus of US nuclear diplomacy in recent months. “Obviously, it is a bit of an effort to get attention, perhaps because so much attention has been focused on the Iranians.”

This is a strange conclusion given that the threat perception from a nuclear armed North Korea now armed with long-range missiles and a history of proliferation. Investigators found that North Korea bartered missile technology with Pakistan in return for nuclear weapons technology with complete approval from and knowledge of China.

It is not clear what options are really available to the world community. The country is already isolated economically, diplomatically, militarily, and politically. Russia is opposed to further sanctions and China will oppose any strong statements. Japan said it would consider immediate economic sanctions against North Korea as it had banned visits by North Korean ferries for six months. But these are symbolic gestures which will fail to change autocrat Kim Jong’s mind. The multi-party talks sponsored by China have foundered since November, with North Korea refusing to take part while Washington threatens financial sanctions based on claims the North laundered money earned from drug trafficking and counterfeiting US currency. Chinese claim that it has very little influence over Jong even though there is continued diplomatic, economic, and personal bonhomie between the two communist nations.

After the inconclusive truce which halted the 1950-1953 Korean conflict, the two Koreas are technically still at war for more than half a century with 30,000 US troops remaining in South Korea under a mutual defense treaty.