North Korea is trying once again to prove its ballistic missiles capability and its determination to become a full-blown nuclear-armed state. On Dec. 1, Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency announced that North Korea is ready to launch a long-range rocket around middle December.
North Korea has a long history of developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, designed to eventually reach the continental U.S. Since 1998, Pyongyang has made four attempts to launch a long range missile - the North already has short- and medium-range missiles and is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen nuclear bombs, but its long-range missile launches in 1998, 2006, 2009 and April 2012 had all ended in failure.
"Rocket launch is pivotal point for Kim. Just eight months after launching a rocket that stayed in the air for only 80 seconds," Evan Ramstad and Jay Solomon of Wall Street Journal report, "North Korea's plan to shoot another is shaping up as tool for legitimizing its new dictator as much as testing its military capability." "By acting so quickly after the April failure," says Shin Beom-chul at Korea Institute for Defense Analysis in Seoul, "they continue to develop weapons out of belief that, if they continue to provoke, international society will accept at the end."
"Our assessment is that," Admiral Samuel Locklearour, Commander of the
U.S. Pacific Command, tells CNN, "their desire to continue down this road is motivated by their desire to ensure that their ability - and they are now a self-proclaimed nuclear state - to demonstrate to the world that they have the capacity to be able to build missiles and have the missile technology to be able to use it in ways of their choosing down the road. And this would be very destabilizing, not only to the region, but to the international security environment."
North Korea's ballistic missile launch poses serious challenges to U.S. foreign policy.
Twice in 2012, first in April and then in August, a White House delegation, reportedly led by Ambassador Clifford Hart, U.S. Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks, visited Pyongyang secretly, in an attempt to dissuade North Korea from conducting another provocation. These secret visits turned out to be a mission not accomplished.
As Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation points out, "North Korea's latest provocation should put to rest nascent predictions that Kim Jong-un would pursue a less belligerent foreign policy than that of his father. During Jong-un's first year in power, Pyongyang has continued to threaten its neighbors and affirm its unwillingness to abandon its nuclear weapons. The attempted launch in April scuttled the U.S.-North Korean agreement trading food aid for a moratorium on missile and nuclear activities. This month's launch will further postpone any allied inclination to return to the negotiating table with North Korea."
What is perhaps more important is the fact that Pyongyang is cooperating with Tehran on nuclear and missile development to defy international pressure. According South Korean government sources, Iranian missile experts have stationed in North Korea to offer technical assistance with planned long-range rocket launch since Pyongyang's failed April launch. And "On Sept. 1 in Teheran," Japan's Kyodo News reports, "Iran and DPRK signed a treaty on the scientific and technical cooperation. There is no information about the specific directions of that cooperation. But the history of the relations between Pyongyang and Teheran in such sensitive areas of 'science and technology' as rocket construction and nuclear tests is now worrying many people."
"Iran and North Korea have a lot in common," writes Vladimir Yevseev of Russian Institute of World Economy and International Relations, "both countries are under international sanction due to ignoring the requirements of the UN and IAEA in the nuclear and rocket construction areas. North Korea has moved far in rockets and in nuclear tests. And Iran has prepared qualified personnel and has created a good technological base, with the help of the North Korean experience. Especially given the fact that Iran has significant financial capabilities, which are limited in North Korea's case, this is why these two countries that have difficulties in dealing with the rest of the world are very much interested in each other."
In response to North Korea's latest long-range rocket launch, the Obama administration must make clear that North Korea's defiance of U.N. resolutions will not be tolerated. And it is time for the United States to lead an international effort against North Korea's violation of international law and to impose more extensive sanctions on the Kim regime.
Xiaoxiong Yi is the director of Marietta College's China Program.