Yesterday’s missile launch, by North Korea, is not only dangerous but unacceptable. As it has done in the past, particularly in the early days of a new President’s administration, North Korea is flaunting international rules in a provocative fashion and directly challenging America. President Obama and the world community, including the feeble Security Council, need to strongly respond with actions.
The North Korean launch is particularly dangerous in light of its potential destabilizing nature. It signifies the fact that North Korea is at, or near, having the capabilities to launch its nuclear arsenal into Japan or possibly the Western United States. Contrary to North Korea’s assertions that the purpose of the launch was to put a satellite in orbit, all evidence and sources confirm that this was a military test (NORAD states that no satellite entered orbit; http://www.norad.mil/News/2009/040509.html).
This puts a number of US allies, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and possibly the US itself, at risk. At a minimum, it is a metaphorical flex of the North Korean muscle and a spit in the face of the international system. Furthermore, North Korea has demonstrated a willingness to sell arms and technologies to anyone who wishes to buy. This consists of terrorist states, such as Iran, and non-state actors. This can easily lead to the spread of dangerous weaponry into other unstable parts of the world, particularly the Middle East.
Unsurprisingly, today’s emergency Security Council meeting yielded nothing (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30035197). As usual, the Security Council proved that it is both unwilling and unable to stop the confrontational actions of defiant states. At a minimum, tougher sanctions and strong, unified language from the world community are necessary. North Korea must be made well aware that it cannot flout international rules and agreements with impunity. North Korea cannot be rewarded for this behavior with recognition of ‘its voice’ or a seat at new negotiations, as it might want. Much like a temper-tantrum throwing child, it must be punished for its behavior before it can be treated like an adult.
However, as has been seen in the past, sanctions and rhetoric have had minimal impact on North Korean behavior. Much of this is due to Russia’s and particularly China’s unwillingness to cooperate. Possibly, the only way to check North Korean ambition is for the United States to convince Russia and China to fall into line. Pressure on Russia can easily be exercised using the new and controversial missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. After all, if rogue states are in the position to launch long distance attacks, defense systems are necessary. Likewise, US interests in the Pacific might need increased protection from a missile attack from North Korea. An augmented US force might push China into taking some actions.
Without serious action, and legitimate support by China, the region is subject to increased anxiety and potential destabilization. Japan and South Korea can only get more uncomfortable with an evermore brazen and insolent North Korea. Naturally, it is highly desirable to avoid an arms race or other actions made in the face of fear.
The US administration has to step up and push China. Unfortunately, it has so far demonstrated an unwillingness to push other nations into line- a most dangerous policy. One can only hope that the administration understands the foolishness of their foreign policy before irreversible damage to US strength and credibility is done.