Strategic Consequences of the Recent Missile Test by North Korea

Strategic Council Online – Opinion: Missile tests of North Korea has once again turned to a major security challenge in the East Asia region and also for the United States of America. Hassan Sayahi, Researcher of international issues

North Korea has recently conducted three missile tests; but what has mostly instigated sensitivities was the successful launching of hypersonic missile called HWASONG-8 which according to South Korean authorities it flies with a speed nearly 13000 Km per hour with a ceiling of flight to nearly 60 Km and a launch range of 700 Km. In such a situation, development of North Korean Missile Program and advancements of the country in hypersonic missiles which are exclusively owned by only three countries; the U.S.A., China and Russia, may cause the East Asia face with a sophisticated security concern. Hwasong-8 missile was tested for the first time in September 2021. Although the missile, like other Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) of North Korea such as Hwasong-12, uses the same launching fuel but is seems that North Korea has managed to equip the missile with Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV).

Testing of this hypersonic missile made the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration cancel all flights over the West coasts of the country for about 10 minutes. Such a test may leave strong effects on the upcoming election of South Korea, in a way that some of the presidential candidates spoke of the necessity of a pre-emptive attack. Japan as a country that is even more sensitive than South Korea to Pyongyang tests has categorically condemned the test. On the opposite side, while supporting negotiation without pressure, North Korea has warned about the necessity of putting an end to the U.S. hostile policies against the country. Amid all this, the consequences of the missile tests of North Korea, particularly the hypersonic kind of test in the last week are of great importance. Such an issue can leave strong effect on the balance of power and security framework of the East Asia region.

Security Council & Punitive Measures against Pyongyang   

While condemning North Korea, the U.S. announced that it would refer the case to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), an issue that does not seem to be conducive to result. The Eastern members of the UNSC, i.e. Russia and China are specifically calling for easing and relieving of punitive measures by the Council against North Korea. The two countries are urging to follow the issue of sanctions on imports of refined petroleum products, textiles and seafood against Pyongyang. On the other side, despite banning missile tests by North Korea through UNSC resolutions, and because of the presence of China and Russia in the Council, Pyongyang does not take the punitive measures of the UN affiliated body seriously either, in a way that the second missile test of the country was coincided with the UNSC meeting in connection with its first missile test. On the other hand, increasing sanctions have not managed so far to curb the advancement and expansion of the missile program of the country.

In general, increasing missile capabilities of North Korea and the country’s access to hypersonic missiles technology may cause rising concerns in Japan and South Korea as well as solidifying the impression of war advantage and probability of enemy’s defeat by North Korea.

Intensification of Arms Race in East Asia & Its effect on the Competition between China & the U.S.

Increasing missile capabilities of North Korea may cause mounting arms race in the region. Japan that is more sensitive towards North Korea and its increasing offensive capabilities, will most probably proceed with its own missile capability development program. Seoul that has harbored North Korean threats to some extent in its national public opinion, although supports diplomatic approach but if North Korea reaches an irreversible point in its military technology, it will probably move towards increasing its military capability and strengthening its security links with the USA. In connection with the U.S., it does not seem that the present North Korean Missile Program will pose a serious threat against the territory of the country, and threats will probably be limited merely to Pyongyang neighbors level. Although Washington believes that North Korean missile program has also gone beyond the deterrent level against the country and is a source of concern to it. But on the other side, the U.S. will not be unwilling to involve China into a regional security competition, and will not prevent a controlled arms race based on preserving power balance in the region. On the opposite side, and despite having supported North Korea, China will not consider the strengthening of Japan and South Korea’s military capabilities as well as the U.S. presence in the region beneficial to its security because of mounting Pyongyang threats. And thus, it seems that Beijing encourages North Korea to gradually deescalate the level of tensions simultaneous with making effort to easing sanctions and restrictions against it.

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