North Korea took a significant step on June 22 in the development of a powerful ballistic missile. This test is special, because the missile’s potential 3,500-kilometer (2,180-mile) range puts much of Asia and the Pacific, including US military bases there, within reach. The Musudan, also known as the Nodong-B or the Taepodong-X, is an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
Its lower range would enable it to hit the whole of South Korea and Japan. At its upper range it would be able to target US military bases on Guam.
According to the Japanese Defense Ministry, the missile reached an altitude exceeding 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).
No previous missiles fired by North Korea have ever flown that high.
The June 22 test was strongly condemned by international community. Japan’s ambassador in charge of Russo-Japanese relations said he had shared concerns over North Korea’s latest missile launch with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov. «We exchanged views on North Korea’s ballistic missile launch and shared our concerns», Chikahito Harada told reporters.
The test is viewed as further evidence of the steady expansion of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The country is now believed to possess up to 20 nuclear weapons – about half of which are loaded onto ballistic missiles. Last year, North Korea tested a submarine-launched missile and declared its intention of mastering the technology for thermonuclear weapons. In 2013 Pyongyang restarted a plutonium reactor that it had shut down at its Yongbyon complex in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament accord. The Yongbyon reactor is capable of producing six kilograms (13 pounds) of plutonium a year – enough for one nuclear bomb. North Korea is currently believed to have enough plutonium for as many as six bombs, after using part of its stock for at least two of its three atomic tests to date. It tested nuclear explosive devices in 2006, 2009 and 2013. This January Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test, claiming it as its first use a hydrogen bomb. Shortly after that it launched a satellite, widely seen as a test of long-range missile technology.
There is another aspect of the problem to be mentioned here. The US takes advantage of North Korea’s defiance of international community to use it as a pretext for boosting its military presence in the region, especially missile defense capability. South Korea and the United States are in talks on the deployment of advanced missile-defence system Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) on the Korean Peninsula, which can target short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles in flight. Russia and China joined together to condemn the US plans.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that «Despite the unity in regard to North Korea’s missile and nuclear adventurism, the Russian Federation considers it absolutely unjustifiable and very, very dangerous to attempt to use this situation as an excuse to disproportionately increase military presence in the region».
The South Korean military has almost finished construction of a new naval base on the strategically located Jeju Island. The base will be a homeport for ships that carry US ballistic missile defense-capable Aegis missiles. Japan uses North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear program to justify its ballistic missile capability effort.
Sergey Lavrov has emphasized, «The United States is engaged in a very huge military buildup in Asia, including under the pretext of countering the North Korean threat but the scale of the buildup is way beyond the need and disproportionally huge».
It should be noted that the Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 US soldiers are stationed in South Korea; tens of thousands more are stationed in Japan.
The June 22 tests have angered all of the world powers, including Russia and China. So far, the UN Security Council (UNSC) has been generally unanimous agreeing to roll out new measures to punish the country that challenged the United Nations. No doubt, it will do so again. The North Korean nuclear policy undermines stability in the region and provides a pretext for the US to boost its military presence in the Asia-Pacific.
On June 25, Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit China. North Korea is included into the agenda of the talks. Both countries are leading Asia Pacific nations with common borders with North Korea. They are also permanent members of the UNSC. Unlike the West, both maintain a dialogue with Pyongyang. They are in a good position to launch a diplomatic initiative. The blatant challenge calls for collective, not unilateral, actions. The Six Party talks process must be revived, the UNSC members must continue to coordinate activities. The positions of the West, the US, Russia and China, by and large, coincide. This particular issue brings the West, Russia and China together to demonstrate rare unanimity at a time of deep discord on issues like Syria’s conflict and the fight against Islamic State, the tensions running high in Europe as NATO deploys forcers in the vicinity of Russian borders under the pretext of exercises and the West’s sanctions against Russia.
Coordinating activities could lead to another major foreign policy success after the Iranian nuclear deal, no matter how many things divide the UNSC permanent members and the countries involved into the Six-Party talks process. The test is another security problem that the West cannot tackle alone. It needs Russia and China. This is another evidence to prove the fact that no matter the how much divided the West, Russia and China may be over some international issues, they need to join together to meet global security challenges.