By Louis René Beres |
Simply put, North Korea does not have the capability to deliver a nuclear strike via an intercontinental ballistic missile. Though unsettling, much of what it has said and done as of late is bluster. Yes, the DPRK finally put a satellite into orbit late last year, but this is rocket science after all, and it will take much more than five missile tests over 15 years to deliver a credible ICBM system.
There is also another major obstacle — the North has not mastered the difficult task of fabricating a reliable warhead that is small enough to mount on a long-range missile. The North's scientists have regularly demonstrated solid technical skill and know-how with few resources, but they still have a long way to go before the DPRK can make good on threats to turn the U.S. into a "sea of fire."
Given this, should the U.S. and its allies simply dismiss North Korea's most recent attempts to intimidate? Absolutely not. This is because North Korea has another purpose for ratcheting up tensions to levels not seen in years — Kim Jong Un and his cabal are conducting another test. They are testing the temperament and resolve of new governments in Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo, not to mention our just-installed national security team in Washington. As such, it becomes essential that these four countries and the rest of the international community respond firmly and deliberately.
However, we must do so with nuance and care. Here's why caution is merited :
The greatest danger at this time comes not from a North Korean pre-emptive nuclear attack, but from miscalculation. In this "tit-for tat" game now underway on the Peninsula, the North likely believes it can increase or decrease tension levels as it wishes. After all, its provocations are what cause us to lurch from one "crisis" to another. Yet deadly skirmishes between South and North naval and fishing vessels are commonplace, as are potentially fatal incidents along the DMZ; and when this is added to super-heated rhetoric and upcoming weeks of large South Korean, U.S. and DPRK military exercises, one could easily foresee a situation in which an altercation between North and South – one that would have been relatively minor a few years ago — now has a real chance of escalating out of control into something major. Let's hope that things cool down quickly.
About Philip Yun Executive Director of the Ploughshares Fund
Ed Royce Republican Representative from California