Is there ongoing world of new arms race?

North Korea is continuing to expand its missile program, conducting very frequent tests. Pyongyang’s testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), recently, sent shockwaves across the globe. The Hwasong14, a modified version of the Hwasong12 missile tested, flew about 930km and for about 37 minutes, and finally fell into the Japanese exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan.

David Wright, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, estimates the missile could reach around 7,000km on a standard ballistic trajectory. The growing range of North Korean missiles, now reaching up to Alaska, is a serious concern for the US.

Nuclear and missile developments in the Korean peninsula have been the focus of global attention, not only because of North Korea’s tests, but also its repeated threats against South Korea, Japan and the United States.

North Korea was, briefly, a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), from which it withdrew in January 2003. It has, subsequently, conducted five nuclear tests: there are fears of another one imminent.

Most pressing global issues is now ‘nuclear power’

At the G20 in Hamburg, Xi Jinping (China) and Vladimir Putin (Russia) were discussing a series of steps regarding the Korean peninsula situation, but their feasibility is questionable. While Xi and Putin agreed that North Korea must halt nuclear and missile tests, they want to see the US and South Korea freeze the joint military drills as well.

North Korea’s continuing nuclear and missile tests are clearly the most central issue. Not even the closest analysts of North Korea seem to have a clear idea of how many nuclear weapons the country has developed or is capable of developing, or even knowledge of technical parameters such as whether the country has solved the problem of miniaturisation of its nuclear warheads to mate one, successfully, to its ballistic missiles.

Whereas, North Korea claimed that it had, after the fourth nuclear test in January 2016. US military officials also suggest that Pyongyang may have managed miniaturisation, though US civilian officials appear to be more skeptical.

Such nuclear and missile activities are a direct threat to South Korea, most obviously, but also to Japan. However, it is a wider problem for the nonproliferation regime itself and so one of the most pressing issues in global politics. The US government had stated that it will not allow North Korea to develop an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, ICBM, but now that it clearly has, US response is not clear.

There is some debate about how North Korea plans to use these nuclear weapons, and, especially, about its nuclear doctrine. North Korea, recently, paraded a whole bunch of new missiles – reflecting the growing capabilities in terms of range and overall sophistication.

It would appear that Washington will fall back on old policies such as economic sanctions that have had little impact so far on North Korean decision-making.

China has the most influence with the North Korean leadership, but it is not clear whether China is able to convince them to moderate their stance. As it stands, China’s stance will be important, because with Beijing assuming the UN Security Council’s presidency, recently, US’s options could (somewhat) be restricted regarding North Korea.


Culled from World Economic Forum but edited.

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