Analysts: North Korea Improves Its Capabilities With Each Missile Test | KUOW News and Information

Analysts: North Korea Improves Its Capabilities With Each Missile Test

Jul 29, 2017
Originally published on July 29, 2017 10:59 pm

Early Friday morning on the Korean peninsula, North Korea launched its second intercontinental ballistic missile inside of a month. Nuclear experts say the latest test improved on than the last one, with a range that could reach most of the continental United States.

"This launch demonstrates our surprise attack capability," North Korean state media quoted leader Kim Jong Un as saying. "It also proves that the mainland U.S. is within our shooting range."

North Korea says the missile was another Hwasong-14, the same type tested on July 4. That launch was the first to reach a distance that the American military considered an intercontinental ballistic missile.

In response, South Korea's Defense Minister appeared before cameras with a terse statement: "We will start discussions with U.S. Forces in Korea to temporarily place THAAD launchers and form a system of response to North Korea," Defense Minister Song Young-mu said. THAAD is the U.S. missile defense system that has begun getting deployed in South Korea.

"The stronger they get, the harder it becomes for us to convince [North Korea] that this is not the road they want to go down," says Jenny Town, the assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at John Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies. She says with each improvement, the U.S. and its allies lose leverage with the North.

"Anytime the U.S. goes on a campaign that's really driven by pressure and isolation and this idea of sanctions not only against North Korea but against China ... is really misconstrued," Town says.

She says a policy of increasing pressure is having the opposite of the intended effect, since she says it plays into North Korea's hands. Domestically, Pyongyang uses all the sanctions slapped on it as evidence to show the U.S. is quote "hostile." This, Town argues, justifies its need for nuclear weapons.

"So they're going to continue down the path of developing their nuclear deterrent and WMD capabilities in order to ensure that their regime survives," says Town.

The U.S. has responded initially with a show of force with South Korea, firing precision missiles along South Korea's East Coast, into the sea. But as for a long term solution — the Trump administration has yet to make any headway in breaking the cycle of provocations seen for years. It continues calling for denuclearization, despite North Korea moving in the opposite direction. Town argues the right perspective is key to policy.

"They really have to understand who North Korea is today, in order to build an effective policy moving forward," Town says.

Jihye Lee contributed to this post.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DON GONYEA, HOST:

North Korea has launched its second intercontinental ballistic missile in less than a month. Nuclear experts say the latest test improved on the last one with a range that could reach most of the continental U.S. NPR's Seoul correspondent Elise Hu reports.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hours after North Korea again test launched its Hwasong 14 intercontinental ballistic missile, South Korea's defense minister appeared before cameras with a terse statement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SONG YOUNG-MU: (Speaking Korean).

HU: "We will start discussions with U.S. forces in Korea to temporarily place THAAD launchers," a U.S. anti-missile defense system, "and form a system of response to North Korea," Song Young-mu said. At the same time...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking Korean).

HU: ...North Korea's state media was gloating about its, quote, "surprise attack capability." following its first successful ICBM launch on July 4, tens of thousands of North Koreans staged a mass dance in the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HU: Jenny Town is at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She says with each improvement, the U.S. and its allies lose leverage with the North.

JENNY TOWN: The stronger they get, the harder it becomes for us to convince them this is not the road they want to go down.

HU: She and other Korea observers have cautioned against a policy of solely ratcheting up isolation and pressure since, she argues, it plays into North Korea's hands. Domestically, Pyongyang uses all the sanctions slapped on it as evidence to show the U.S. is, quote, "hostile." She says this justifies its need for nuclear weapons.

TOWN: So they're going to continue down the path of developing their nuclear deterrence and WMD capabilities in order to ensure that their regime survives.

HU: The U.S. has so far responded with a show of force with South Korea, firing precision missiles along South Korea's east coast into the sea. But as for a long-term solution, the Trump administration has yet to make any headway in breaking the cycle of provocations seen for years. Jenny Town argues the right perspective is key to policy.

TOWN: They really have to understand, again, who North Korea is today in order to build an effective policy moving forward.

HU: Hoping that a different understanding can lead to better results. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF PABLIE'S "SINCE THEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.