North Korea fires missile over Japan

The North Korean capital Pyongyang

By Andrew O’Neil, Professor of Political Science at Griffith University

North Korea’s launch of what appears to be an intermediate range ballistic missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido once again highlights Pyongyang’s manic fixation on destabilising security in Asia.

Professor Andrew O'Neil, Head of School of Government and International Relations
Professor Andrew O’Neil

For ordinary Japanese waking to the sounds of the nationwide J-alert system, the test brutally underscores how vulnerable Japan remains to a North Korean nuclear strike, which is precisely the intended message from Pyongyang.

From North Korea’s perspective, the launch is intended to emphasise that it retains the initiative in terms of escalation control and that it will not bow to external pressure, whether this comes from Beijing or from Washington.

Away from the rhetorical white noise, however, the latest North Korean missile test is serious cause for concern.

It confirms that Kim Jong-un has no intention of exercising restraint; to the contrary, we can anticipate an acceleration in North Korean missile firings directed at Japan, South Korea, and US territories in the region. This is the new normal.

The reality is that short of direct military action against North Korea’s nuclear and missile installations, there is nothing the United States can do to prevent Pyongyang from carrying out missile launches directed at US allies in Asia, and indeed the US mainland with an ICBM.

But the time may be coming soon when the Trump administration re-examines US plans for striking North Korea.

While full-scale war on the Korean peninsula is a sickening prospect, the alternative of living with a nuclear-armed North Korea threatening the US and its allies on a weekly basis may seem increasingly like the greater of two evils.