The North Korean state is routinely mocked in the West for engaging in hyperbole and bombast. Ironically, the Western reaction to its latest satellite launch is a carnival of knee-jerk hysteria and hyperbole. But all the bluster has conveniently given Washington an opportunity to proceed with its global missile shield plans. That is far more destabilizing to international security than any alleged North Korean violation.
In an interview this week on CBS, US President Obama repeated denunciations of North Korea’s rocket launch into outer space last Sunday, which Pyongyang claimed was for the purpose of putting an observation satellite into orbit.
Obama said: «I think we have been concerned about North Korea’s behavior for a while. This is an authoritarian regime. It’s provocative. It has repeatedly violated UN resolutions, tested and produced nuclear weapons and now they are trying to perfect their missile launch system».
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond lambasted North Korea, saying its actions «continue to present a threat to regional and international security».
Within hours of the satellite launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the US and its South Korean ally unveiled their plans to install the Pentagon’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system. The system is designed for intercepting intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as high as 200 kilometers. It is part of the global «missile shield» network that Washington is pushing elsewhere in Europe.
Aware of the sensitivity of the move, a South Korean official immediately qualified the planned deployment of the THAAD as being «against North Korea’s advancing threats»,according to a report in the Financial Times.
The inference is that the US missile system is not related to China’s security. But that’s not how Beijing sees it. While China rebuked its North Korean ally for its rocket-satellite launch, it also strongly protested the subsequent US move towards deploying the THAAD.
China, like Russia, has consistently opposed any such deployment of a missile shield by the Americans near its borders as a provocative step towards giving Washington a «first strike nuclear capability» because the THAAD in theory can take out any Chinese warheads, thus giving the US a license to hit first, unburdened by a threat of retaliation.
Moscow has similarly admonished US-led NATO plans to install Aegis-class ballistic missile interceptors in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin previously argued that Washington’s claims for a missile shield in Europe and South Korea, as providing a defense against Iranian and North Korean ICBMs, are bogus. The real purpose, said Putin, is for the Americans is to be able to target both Russia and China with a perceived nuclear-threat dominance. Such military power is a corollary of political and economic hegemony.
This week – apparently unrelated to the Korean controversy – Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov reiterated Moscow’s concerns that US attempts to «create a global missile defense system» are aimed at acquiring a «global first strike» capability.
The apparent «response» by Washington to Pyongyang’s satellite launch, involving the installation of its THAAD in East Asia is in reality an ominous shift in the balance of nuclear power. As well as South Korea, America’s other ally Japan is also preparing to deploy the same missile shield. Fortuitously for Washington, North Korea’s «rogue behavior» has given it a cover for moving ahead with its missile system.
Lt General Thomas Vandal, Commander of the US Eighth Army based in South Korea, said Pyongyang’s «provocative» satellite launch now paved the way for the deployment of the THAAD system, adding with a notable tone of haste: «It’s time to move forward on this».
A New York Timesreport, headlined: «North Korea Launches Rocket Seen as Cover for a Missile Test», had this to say: «Hours after the North declared the success of its launch on Sunday, the United States and South Korea jointly announced that they had begun discussing deployment of the American THAAD ballistic missile defense system».
The irony of the New York Times report is that the North Korea rocket launch appears rather more like a cover for the US moving ahead with its controversial and destabilizing missile shield.
It is a measure of how problematic the issue has been in the past that the South Korean government of President Park Geun-hye has up to now spurned American requests to deploy the missile system. President Park has made strenuous efforts in recent years to build stronger relations with China, becoming Beijing’s top trading partner. Although formally a US ally, Seoul has nonetheless been mindful of China’s security objections over the US missile system on South Korean territory as it would neutralize China’s nuclear capability.
As Britain’s Independent newspaper reports: «South Koreans have long been lukewarm about US insistence on the need to deploy multibillion-dollar missile launchers capable of shooting down enemy missiles hurtling more than 100 miles overhead. One of South Korea’s objections has been concern about offending Beijing, which has repeatedly expressed alarm about THAAD and its potential for use against China».
However, South Korea’s military establishment appears to be augmenting the US agenda of hamming up the North Korea threat. Immediately following the rocket launch by Pyongyang, the BBC reports: «South Korean MPs were told in a behind-closed-doors briefing by the country's spy agency later on Sunday that the launch should be treated as a ballistic missile test as the satellite it put into orbit would be useless… They were also reportedly told North Korea has the technology for inter-continental ballistic missiles and is preparing a fifth nuclear test».
Let’s unpack those claims a bit. Yes, North Korea’s latest rocket action was in violation of United Nations resolutions banning the use of ballistic technology. The latest rocket launch – the second since December 2012 – was no doubt a satellite cover story used by Pyongyang to assay the dual capability of ballistic power. And yes, North Korea did conduct a fourth nuclear test explosion last month – again in violation of UN resolutions.
But there is chasm between all of this and the claims put out by Washington that North Korea presents an imminent threat from being able to launch a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. The North has evidently developed nuclear warheads, with the first test back in 2006. But there is a vast way to go before it can ever build an ICBM charged with a nuclear weapon. Most international ballistic experts contend that Pyongyang is very far off reaching that level of sophisticated technology.
AFP news agency quoted aerospace engineer John Schilling, who has closely followed the North's missile program, as saying: «An ICBM warhead, unlike a satellite, needs to come down as well as go up. North Korea has never demonstrated the ability to build a re-entry vehicle that can survive at even half the speed an ICBM would require».
In short, despite what the US, its British ally and heaps of Western media coverage would have us believe, North Korea is not a threat to international security. Sure, the secretive state of Kim Jong-un can be said to be in breach of UN resolutions. But a nuclear enemy of the world it is most certainly not.
There is a bizarre lack of intelligent perspective on the real issues. Washington possesses more than 1,500 actively deployed nuclear warheads across the globe, ready to launch at the touch of a button. Nearly 40 years after the Non-Proliferation Treaty mandating nuclear disarmament, the US is in a process of upgrading its nuclear arsenal at a cost of $1 trillion over the next 30 years. And it is pushing ahead with a global missile shield system that is profoundly destabilizing international security, in particular with regard to Russia and China.
As for the matter of violating international norms and obligations, it is not removed from the subject to ask about Washington and London’s illegal bombing of sovereign countries like Syria. Or, as international lawyer Christopher Black wrote recently, to refer to Washington’s repeated acts of aggression towards China when its missile destroyer Wilbur Curtis flagrantly breached territorial waters in the South China Sea on January 30.
On the specific issue of resolving Korea’s historical tensions, what is needed is a return to earnest dialogue between the North and the South, and their respective allies China and the US. However, Washington’s hidebound policy of isolating Pyongyang and refusing to demilitarize the Korean Peninsula is the main obstacle to a negotiated resolution.
Indeed, it can be reasonably deduced that Washington does not want to ever resolve the conflict in the region for the precise reason that it needs to keep North Korea isolated and hostile in order to maintain its military presence in the Asia Pacific.
Under the cover of a «chivalrous protector» of allies, the US is cynically exploiting a much overblown «threat» from North Korea for pursuing its much more concrete and malevolent threat of nuclear aggression towards Russia and China.