Trudeau Needs to Take Note North Korea: Key Foreign Policy Challenge of the Trump Presidency
North Korea continues to be the key foreign policy challenge of the Trump Presidency and China, Russia, Iran, and the world for that matter, are watch to see how the new US administration will react to the challenge.
Yesterday, North Korea test-fired what is believed to be new Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) from Kusong, sending the weapon higher in altitude than previous tests, and bringing it down in the Sea of Japan near Russia. Japan's Defense Ministry stated that the un-named IRBM (perhaps KN-17) reached an altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) and flew for 30 minutes before splashing down about 310 miles from Russian territory. The new IRBM test of a road mobile, solid fuel, two stage rocket appears to be significant for a variety of reasons. First, this very successful launch of a new IRBM represents a higher level of performance than previously seen in tests. Experts seem to agree, that if IRBM was fired at its maximum trajectory that it could have flown 4500 kilometers. A range of 4500 kilometers puts US targets as far away as Guam within North Korea’s sights. As such, the new IRBM might be a simple replacement for the less reliable Musudan, but it could also be the precursor to a new Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).
Second, according to 38 North, the US-Korea Institute at SAIS and other sources, the IRBM appears to be based on the North Korean KN-08 Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with two smaller first and second stage rockets than in the prototype KN-08 ICBM, and no third stage. It appears to have the same dual rocket engine in the first stage of the KN-08 ICBM. There is speculation that this IRBM made its first appearance at the April 15th parade. The IRBM may have been previously test-fired twice in failed launches in October of last year that were reported as Musudan IRBM launches, and in April identified as a maneuvering re-entry vehicle. This new IRBM was launched from a Musudan TEL launch vehicle and thus, could be mistaken for a Musudan.
Third, given what we have seen today and an estimated 4500-kilometer range, the new IRBM when coupled with a nuclear warhead might give the North the basis of a regional deterrent. Fourth, by adding a third stage to the new IRBM, it likely could gain ICBM range, and an ability to strike continental North America. But by keeping it to two stages and testing the system as an IRBM, the North avoids crossing the ‘red line’ to an ICBM test, giving it time to perfect the weapon.
Fifth, Sunday's test is the first from North Korea since new South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, took office this past week. Moon has been an advocate for increased dialogue with North Korea pushing it to denuclearize. The White House responded to the North Korean IRBM test-launch late Saturday, saying that the Kim Jong-un regime has been a “flagrant menace for far too long.” The Russian Defense Ministry stated that even given its impact proximity to Russian territory, that the Federation was never in any danger. But it should be noted this is the second missile test to impact closer to Russia than Japan.
Meanwhile, according to the 38 North think-tank, activity reportedly continues at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site but it is not clear whether the facility is on stand-by, or if a test is imminent. New commercial satellite imagery from May 2nd and 3rd indicates that activity continues around the North Portal test tunnel. Additionally, disruptive pattern camouflage paint has been added to the roofs of the Command Center facilities in a move to reduce the quality of foreign overhead observation of the nuclear test site. This approach was taken with the Main Administrative Area buildings in 2011 to complicate air strike planning. Water is still reportedly being pumped from the test tunnel to keep it at the ready for a nuclear test.
Lastly, on a final point, previously we have written on May 8th that North Korea has conducted tests that would simulate the steps necessary to carry out a pre-emptive Electron Magnetic Pulse (EMP) nuclear strike on the US, and that its satellites currently in over-flight of the US are optimised for such a strike on the Continental US geared to destroy all unprotected electronics-based systems. It needs to be pointed out that this has immediate and devastating consequences for Canada and should not be ignored by Canadian authorities. ‘Unofficial’ Canadian discussions with the US on Missile Defense, and the proposed eastern missile defense interceptor site at Forth Drum, in northern New York near Watertown, need close-scrutiny. The time has come for Trudeau to join the Missile Defense program to attempt to shape its dimensions, or for Canada to forever cede its interest in North American defense. Watertown, New York is little more than an hour from Ottawa.