When does North Korea become a crisis?

Some might think right about now, via the BBC:

North Korea says it has successfully tested its first “intercontinental ballistic missile” (ICBM).

A state television announcement said the missile, which landed in the Sea of Japan on Tuesday, could hit targets anywhere in the world.

But the US and Russia said the missile had a medium range and presented no threat to either country.

China and Russia called on Pyongyang to freeze its missile and nuclear activities.

The announcement on North Korea state television said the Hwasong-14 missile test was overseen by leader Kim Jong-un.

It said the projectile had reached an altitude of 2,802km (1,731 miles) and flew 933km for 39 minutes before hitting a target in the sea.

North Korea, it said, was now “a full-fledged nuclear power that has been possessed of the most powerful inter-continental ballistic rocket capable of hitting any part of the world”.

It would enable the country to “put an end to the US nuclear war threat and blackmail” and defend the Korean peninsula, it said.

While Pyongyang appears to have made progress, experts believe North Korea does not have the capability to accurately hit a target with an ICBM, or miniaturise a nuclear warhead that can fit onto such a missile.

Other nuclear powers have also cast doubt on North Korea’s assessment, with Russia saying the missile only reached an altitude of 535km and flew about 510km.

David Wright, a physicist with the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, says that if the reports are correct, this missile could “reach a maximum range of roughly 6,700km on a standard trajectory”.

That range would allow it to reach Alaska, but not the large islands of Hawaii or the other 48 US states, he says.

It is not just a missile that North Korea would need, our correspondent adds. It must also have the ability to protect a warhead as it re-enters the atmosphere, and it is not clear if North Korea can do that.

Once again North Korea has defied the odds and thumbed its nose at the world in a single missile launch. With the test of the Hwasong-14, it has shown that it can likely reach intercontinental ballistic missile ranges including putting Alaska at risk.

Kim Jong-un has long expressed his desire for such a test, and to have it on the 4 July holiday in the US is just the icing on his very large cake.

Despite this technical achievement, however, it is likely many outside North Korea will continue to be sceptical of North Korea’s missile. They will ask for proof of working guidance, re-entry vehicle, and even a nuclear warhead.

From a technical perspective, though, their engines have demonstrated ICBM ranges, and this would be the first of several paths North Korea has to an ICBM with even greater range.

Could hit Darwin, though. Might make a nice test target.

Seriously, though, when does this escalation become a market problem? Does the US even have a strategy here? The Tribune is doubtful:

The latest North Korean missile launch comes as President Donald Trump appears to be reassessing his strategy for the region, which has emphasized both tough talk and collaboration with China.

Trump responded quickly after North Korea on Tuesday tested a missile that flew higher and longer than previous ones, criticizing leader Kim Jong Un and urging China to “put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!” But he offered no specifics on a path ahead.

White House officials did not respond to questions about what Trump meant. Since he entered the White House, Trump has talked about confronting Pyongyang and pushing China to increase pressure on the North, but neither strategy has produced fast results. The White House has been threatening to move forward on its own, though administration officials have not settled on next steps.

Patrick Cronin, an Asia expert with the Center for a New American Security, said Trump was probably “coming to the point of no return” with North Korea, adding that the upshot could be diplomatic overtures or military action.

“We either go to the diplomatic table with Kim Jong Un or we do take some course of action,” Cronin said. “In all probability we do both.”

Like what? There’s nothing the US can do without risking every major city in the region with destruction. Yet the diplomatic route is going nowhere, either. There have been no Six Party talks in nearly a decade. China is seriously conflicted, seeking denuclearisation but no regime change or, at least, no instability within the country.

The NYT sums up Trump’s options:

There is classic containment: limiting an adversary’s ability to expand its influence, as the United States did against a much more powerful foe, the Soviet Union. But that does not solve the problem; it is just a way of living with it.

He could step up sanctions, bolster the American naval presence off the Korean Peninsula — “we’re sending an armada,” he boasted in April — and accelerate the secret American cyberprogram to sabotage missile launches. But if that combination of intimidation and technical wizardry had been a success, Mr. Kim would not have conducted the test on Tuesday, knowing that it would lead only to more sanctions, more military pressure and more covert activity — and perhaps persuade China that it has no choice but to intervene more decisively.

…He could also take another step and threaten pre-emptive military strikes if the United States detects an imminent launch of a intercontinental ballistic missile — maybe one intended to demonstrate the potential reach to the West Coast. Mr. Perry argued for that step in 2006, in an op-ed in The Washington Post that he wrote with a future defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter. “If North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy” the missile on the pad, the two men wrote.

But Mr. Perry noted recently that “even if you think it was a good idea at the time,” and he now seems to have his doubts, “it’s not a good idea today.”

The reason is simple: In the intervening 11 years, the North has built too many missiles, of too many varieties, to make the benefits of a strike like that worth the risk. It has test-flown a new generation of solid-fuel missiles, which can be easily hidden in mountain caves and rolled out for quick launch. And the North Koreans still possess their ultimate weapon of retaliation: artillery along the northern edge of the Demilitarized Zone that can take out the South’s capital, Seoul, a city of approximately 10 million people and one of the most vibrant economic hubs of Asia.

…Which leads to the next option, the one that South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, talked about in Washington on Friday when he visited Mr. Trump: negotiation. It would start with a freeze in North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in return for an American agreement to limit or suspend military exercises with South Korea. Mr. Xi has long urged that approach, and it won an endorsement on Tuesday from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, after he met with the Chinese leader.

That, too, carries risks. It essentially achieves the North Korean and Chinese goal of limiting American military freedom of action in the Pacific, and over time erodes the quality of the American-South Korean military deterrent.

Markets are still not reacting much beyond a bid in the yen. Probably because stalemate is the best and perhaps only option.

David Llewellyn-Smith
Latest posts by David Llewellyn-Smith (see all)


    • Let me guess you said the same thing about Saddam Hussein, because you wanted Oil to up.

      Instead, you got to bathe yourself in children’s blood and tears, and in true Australian fashion, learnt nothing in the process.

    • Wow. It would seem that Australia’s most selfish and uncaring individual isn’t a politician in Canberra.

    • Perhaps nuke the Beltway and gold goes up even more (and as a freebie NK is not a problem any more)

    • Steady there mate. Not all Canberrans (eg me and my family) are public servants who deserve nuking, and the nasty politicians that are here are all fly in from elsewhere after being elected by our fellow citizens.

    • Joke’s on you. Canberra is so spread out and full of mountains that you’d get way better ‘bang’ for your buck hitting more densely populated cities..like Sydney and Melbourne.

      • Melbourne is fairly spread out too. Although I doubt that Dandenong would make a good new CBD.

      • HadronCollision

        Cornflakes unless you own property there in which case the uptick in prices would be great

        Minus the nooka-lear fallout

      • The 1954 plan for Melbourne actually considered a nuclear attack and hence why the industry went down in Dandenong. Very few large cities are as spread out as far as Melbourne.

  1. I agree with Trump’s latest tweet on this today.

    Funny too.

    And North Korea should have been bombed in the 1990s.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      Well, all those people living in Seoul will not agree with you. They are the ‘hostage’.

      • Torchwood1979

        Precisely. Any military action against NK will result in carnage in Seoul within minutes. They have crap loads of long range artillery ready to fire at a moment’s notice. The death and destruction in SK would be terrible to behold.

  2. As much as I hate destruction, I see NK being a real threat to the new world system, including Australia bid to keep the housing bubble going for ever.

  3. In these trying times, am I allowed to take a small amount of pleasure (and God knows I need it) from the fact that the idiot Norks have called one of their missiles the “Nodong”? Having Nodong somehow seems to make the Norks less threatening. Perhaps the next missile in the series will be the Smalldong, followed by the Hugedong. I dunno.

    • Jumping jack flash

      You may be onto something.
      I am reminded of the Southpark episode about Chinpokomon.

      The world sits back and laughs at the hilarious Nodong.


  4. Perfectly rational behaviour from NK. If they did not develop Nukes and the means to deliver them the NeoCons would have bombed the shit out of them some time ago. Now they can negotiate on equal terms. The USA has Nukes and I may point out is the only country to ever use them in conflict.
    The USA has no chance of winning a war on the Korean Peninsula, and China certainly don’t want the blood thirsty regime changing yanks on their border.

    I should point out I am no apologist for NK, no one comes to this dispute with clean hands. The USA is a global empire that bombs the fck out of any country that refuses to play ball with them and if that is too dramatic they send in the death squads like in central america during the 80s.

    • Perfectly rational behaviour from NK ?
      The USA has no chance ?

      I don’t believe either, sorry.

      • “The USA has no chance ?”

        How did the last ground war in Korea end ?

        NK has artillery in place to flatten Soul in an hour. If the USA uses Nukes on China’s border China will Nuke back. Then it’s all over for humanity. Even Trump is not that stupid.

        The USA bombed the hell out of the North during the Korean war.. How should they deal with the USA simply bend over ?

      • Your response has not vindicated your statement – there is never ‘ no ‘ chance.

      • Your response has not vindicated your statement – there is never ‘ no ‘ chance.

      • North Korea’s behaviour is rational, sadly. Given the US has a warmongering president, it seems that to yield to the American demands would simply invite the Americans to come in and “liberate” them. If they can’t negotiate on equal footing, what hope do they have?

        The option they’ve gone with, escalation, is just a rational application of the mutually assured destruction doctrine of the cold war.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      The USA, without a doubt, will beat North Korea in a war. The collateral damage however will be immense, especially if the dying regime launch a nuclear attack at Seoul. All the North Korean missile testing is aimed at one outcome, and one outcome only : to deter the USA from starting a war with North Korea.

      • I think if the US decided they had absolutely no choice but to go to war they would use tactical nuclear weapons against NK and use the defense of Seoul as justification. Sounds crazy but they’ve already been doing B-1B training missions near the peninsula.

  5. Look where endless appeasement of a dictator got the world last time…this dictator executes people with AA guns, this is the mind set of Kim Jong-un and the West are trying to reason with him…snowballs chance in hell. And this is the same path Iran is taking now, they see the West incapable of military intervention. Meanwhile China and Russia are quite happy to keep providing under the table support to all. Make no mistake there are plenty of countries that would love to see the US on its knees and are working for that very end.

    • Killing with an AA gun is dramatic, but I doubt its much different to being killed by other conventional weapons. Drone strikes are notorious for hitting bystanders. Not sure I’d wanna be shredded by a low yield warhead rather than an AA gun.

    • And how would that be a bad thing? Unless you’re one of the Tony Abbott brand of idiot who believe the U.S. Is the indispensable nation and a force for good.

      We are in a multipolar world now. The quicker the former hegemon accepts others in equal terms the better for everyone.

  6. I keep hearing that China has some sort of magical power over the North Koreans, but there is scant evidence for this. They can make life more difficult for North Korea by cut electricity etc. but can’t really control them. So they are keep these things up their sleeve.
    Basically, the only real thing that China could do is state that they would be OK with a capitalist democratic Korea bordering them (so basically telling the North Koreans they on their own). But it is a one trick pony and the problem with one trick ponies is you can only ever show them once.

  7. It becomes an issue when someone can engineer a lucrative enough financial exploitation plan. Be it military contracts or resource exploitation. My guess is Obama felt both those too risky on China’s doorstep. Trump on the other hand – will no doubt come up with something HUGE.

  8. Terror Australis

    Dont worry. The Donald has a strategy.
    1. Play golf.
    2. Watch more Fox and Friends
    3. Tweet about Joe and Mikka’s ratings.

    Winning bigly!

  9. Jumping jack flash

    Trump is handling it great.
    Don’t do anything. Why does he need to?

    Does the US really need another nemesis? They already have so many to justify the dollars flowing into their war machine.

    If Trump pokes his stick into the wasp’s nest there’s a greater chance of everyone getting stung.
    Let NK sit around happily playing with their Nodongs, they really have no reason to do anything stupid unless provoked.

    If the Western propaganda is correct, Kim and his badly photoshopped army isn’t much to worry about.

  10. Grew up in Seoul and spent 2/3 of my life there – hardly any Seoulians I know believe they will start another war but who knows, it might just happen all of sudden just like how Aussie housing bubble would pop one day.