North Korea is none too pleased by the United States’ response to its latest illegal missile test; the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system (THAAD) to South Korea drew a near-instant heated response from Pyongyang. Deploying the system was a wise choice on behalf of the U.S. administration.
It is more obvious now than ever that Pyongyang is not embracing a diplomatic solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, but rather posturing for war against the United States and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Its latest missile test, which state media publically declared was intended to gauge whether North Korean missiles could strike U.S. forces in Japan, is but the latest confirmation of this fact.
Pyongyang has a tradition of rattling its sabers in response to Foal Eagle, an annual joint military training exercise between the U.S. and ROK. This latest iteration of its expression of outrage, however, carries particular weight due to its recent nuclear missile test.
It is beyond question at this point that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is fundamentally unhinged, having now executed his uncle and orchestrated a public assassination of his half-brother to secure his power.
The question remains whether President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will take a harsher stance against the regime. Trump has prided himself on his deal-making skills and indicated he’s open to speaking with Kim. Such a thing seems unlikely now.
The unique reclusiveness of the hermit kingdom renders any thoughtful analysis of its intentions challenging. Few, if any, can say whether Kim Jong-un’s hold on power is steady, and the opaque nature of his regime prevents any clear understanding of its intentions.
This, coupled with its history of frenzied rhetoric that includes such incantations as setting the South Korean Capital awash in a “sea of fire,” grants little lenience for an underwhelming response. Rather, the United States must face an unpleasant reality: an increased military commitment to defend against an increasingly unstable North Korea is more necessary than ever.
The Chinese, too, have expressed serious concerns over the deployment of THAAD. Beijing denounced the deployment, viewing it as a check not on North Korean nuclear ambitions but rather as a move to inhibit China’s own nuclear arsenal. Having let its own satellite state of North Korea grow unchecked for decades now, China has little backing for such claims.
Beijing simply cannot foster a security crisis by ignoring North Korean provocation and then blame the U.S. and ROK when they take the appropriate steps to defend themselves. Such behavior is not only hypocritical but also genuinely dangerous for all parties involved.
It is thus undeniably true that while the deployment of THAAD has further stirred an already swirling pot, it was a necessary reaction to the decision by Pyongyang to continue expanding its nuclear capabilities.
China may not like it, and Kim Jong-un will certainly continue to rant and rave. Yet until such a time as the safety and prosperity of Southeast Asia and the world are no longer threatened by the tyrant in Pyongyang, America’s missile defense systems must be primed and ready.