North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile is a clear violation of its treaty obligations. The rogue government in Pyongyang made a deliberate decision to infuriate its neighbours as it aimed its missile over South Korean and Japanese waters, and its debris landed close to the Philippines. This irresponsible action should be condemned in the strongest possible manner, and the international community needs to take action to drive home to Kim Jong-un and his government that such dangerous provocation is wrong.
The UN Security Council has condemned North Korea and is looking for an “appropriate response”. The US and its allies are right to disregard North Korea’s protestation that it was testing satellite technology, and to view the launch as a disguised test of ballistic missile technology. North Korea has been repeatedly banned by the UN from conducting ballistic missile tests after its nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
North Korea is backed by the Chinese government, its only genuine ally. The new Chinese leadership should take a strong line with their client, and remind North Korea of the dangers of such provocative behaviour. So far Beijing has only expressed its “regret” at the launch of the missile while also urging restraint in any counter-measures. China cannot protect North Korea for ever from its irresponsible actions.
The obvious threat from North Korea is that it could arm such a ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon, but North Korea is working with very old Russian technology, and it is only likely to manage an occasional missile launch. The real impact is political, as Kim’s bankrupt government seeks to bolster some kind of domestic popularity, and seeks short-term advantage from deliberately alarming its neighbours. Everyone must remember that in the long term, the government of North Korea is not viable, as it has repeatedly failed to even feed its own people. If China was to withdraw its support, North Korea would immediately fail. The world is dealing with a dangerous rogue, which is seeking take short-term advantage of its notoriety.