29.06.2016 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

North Korean Missile Launches

_88649912_88649907On June 22, 2016, North Korea conducted two unsuccessful launches of medium-range presumably Musudan-type missiles.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea, the first missile was launched from the area of the city of Wonsan, Gangwon province at 5:58 am and flew 150-160 kilometers, the second one was launched at 8:05 am and flew 400 kilometers. Both missiles, however, exploded in mid-air, and the debris fell into the East Sea.

This is already their sixth attempt – since April this year North Korea has conducted four launches of such missiles, and they all failed. Before that, the ‘fireworks’ were held on April 15, on the Day of the Sun (DPRK’s official holiday, the birthday of Kim Il Sung), prompting another round of conversations “about the terrible threat to peace” in the Republic of Korea, the United States and Japan, as well as a restrained demonstration of displeasure by China – Xinhua News Agency expressed a critical view of the actions of the North, calling them reckless and “ill-advised”. At that time, the launch was carried out at 5.30 am from Hodo Peninsula on the east coast of North Korea, which is also not far from the port of Wonsan, and ended in failure within a few seconds of the start. The missile exploded in the air at the stage of the vertical climb failing to reach the desired trajectory”.

It is clear that regardless of the success or failure of such a launch, the mass media of Korea and its allies would predictably break out in hysteria. Formally, it is linked to the fact that the range of Musudan is about three thousand kilometers, which is sufficient to cover the area of the Republic of Korea and neighboring Japan and hit the targets of the US military facilities in Japan and Guam island. South Korean analysts supplement this fact with the fear that such missiles could theoretically carry nuclear warheads (this was voiced by the head of the Korea Institute of National Unification Chung Jin-wook​​ on April 18. Thus, Seoul seconded the statement made ​​in March by the DPRK leader Kim Jong-un, who also said that North Korea already has the technology to produce nuclear warheads that can be mounted on ballistic missiles. Washington, however, is more reserved in its estimates: “Whether they have managed to create a compact warhead or not is a debatable issue, but since they announced that they have, we will act on the basis that they possess such a capacity”.

It was also noted that launches were carried out ​​at a time when the deputy director of the DPRK Foreign Ministry North American Department Choe Son Hui was in Beijing attending the 26th Annual Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue. The event was attended by non-governmental experts and representatives of the six countries who held negotiations to address the North Korean nuclear problem.

As a result, Pyongyang’s actions were interpreted as a violation of the UN Security Council resolution forbidding it to test ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, as if the North violated international requirements even though the launches had been unsuccessful. On June 22, the Foreign Ministry of South Korea, in cooperation with friendly nations, opened discussions on the response measures, and on June 21 representative of the South Korea Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cho Jung Hyuk stated that retaliatory actions will be taken by South Korea and friendly nations through the UN in case of subsequent missile launches.

Tokyo also announced its intention to issue a formal protest, considering such actions of North Korea a serious threat to air travel. However, according to the head of the country’s Ministry of Defense Mr. Nakatani, no problems have arisen in terms of the security of Japan in connection with the incident. The minister added that the collection of information on DPRK missile launches will continue.

It is important, however, to keep in mind that an attempt to use the Security Council in April failed: still, the UN Security Council resolution stipulates the possibility of a new resolution in case Pyongyang violates the above restriction, but the North’s launch was nonetheless unsuccessful, and the ballistic missile was medium- and not long-range. So it seems that the UN Security Council will not consider additional measures and will thus limit its response, just like last time, to “strong condemnation.” At the time when the article was being written, this was scaled down to a statement to the press, and not even a resolution.

Of course, it mentions that the launches of medium-range missiles are a flagrant violation of international regulations, that are raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and that the Security Council will continue to closely monitor the situation and take further actions as part of the previously expressed intentions. The UN Security Council called on all countries to redouble their efforts in implementing the anti-North Korean sanctions, as well as requested the governments to report on the measures taken within the framework of resolution 2270. The final part of the statement underlined the importance of maintaining peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, as well as the commitment to a peaceful, diplomatic and political settlement of the situation surrounding Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes. However, all this was merely standard diplomatic jargon, essential as it is. As for the action part – it is only a call to redouble efforts and finally submit the reports.

From a technical point of view, these launches can be evaluated in two ways. On the one hand, at best, one of the two meets the criteria of success. On the other, the author came across the idea that it wasn’t the maximum range that the missile can fly that the North were trying to test, but the maximum altitude. Whatever it was, even though it seems that Musudan is not yet in the North Korean weapons inventory, the North competently uses these missiles as a certain factor of pressure, doing, in general, the same thing as South Korea and the United States achieve with their regular military exercises, which as of recently have been held 10 to 20 times a year.

Clearly, it helps little in mitigating the situation. But in terms of real impact on the situation, it is not so much an attempt to bite, but to bare the teeth, and the “democratic press” that is mechanically reproducing the South Korean and American discourse should be reminded that not every missile flying along a ballistic trajectory is ballistic. And that the resolutions say nothing about medium-range missiles. Furthermore, conducting military exercises on its territory is an internal matter of the country, and if someone wants to debate it, then it is time to get rid of double standards and passionately, loudly and with the involvement of the UN and the international media criticise the similar manoeuvres of the US and the Republic of Korea, who are just as, if not more, responsible for the destabilization in the region.

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D., Senior fellow at the Center for Korean studies of the Institute of Far Eastern studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.

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