North Korea has conducted yet another missile test. Though it failed, the missile exploding just after it was launched near the city of Sinpo on the Sea of Japan, we cannot overlook this provocation.
The U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is steaming for waters off the Korean Peninsula, while joint South Korean-U.S. military exercises are set to continue in South Korea until the end of April. The attempted North Korean missile launch was likely ordered with this U.S. military activity in mind.
Manufacturing dangerous conditions to obtain a more advantageous negotiating position is one of North Korea's most well-worn diplomatic strategies. It appears that the North's leader Kim Jong Un is playing a similar diplomatic game, speeding up the regime's missile and atomic weapons development programs from his father's time in a bid to confront the United States as an equal.
However, the administration of President Donald Trump believes that the past 20 years of U.S. policy on North Korea was a mistake and, seeking a new approach, has declared that all options "are on the table."
With a recent cruise missile attack on a Syrian government airbase and the dropping of the "mother of all bombs" on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan, the Trump administration is showing the world that it will not hesitate to use force. In fact, the U.S. boosted tensions on the Korean Peninsula by ordering the Carl Vinson strike group to the region just after the Syria strike.
As the situation simmered, North Korea literally rolled out what appeared to be new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of striking the U.S. mainland during an enormous military parade in Pyongyang. The North has never tried to launch an ICBM, so we do not know if the missiles in the parade were functional. However, the display was almost certainly intended as a declaration that the Kim regime has ICBMs in its arsenal.
It is also possible that North Korea has completed preparations for its sixth atomic bomb test.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently told the U.S. media that the Trump administration is not seeking regime change for North Korea, only denuclearization. However, as long as both the U.S. and North Korea seek to highlight their military might, there remains the risk that events will get out of hand.
China put a moratorium on coal imports from North Korea from February to the end of this year, and suspended Beijing-Pyongyang flights on Chinese carriers as of April 17. Beijing, acutely aware of the U.S.'s new hard-line attitude, appears to be putting pressure on the Kim regime to behave and avoid spiking regional tensions further.
The greatest priority of the North Korean government is to sustain the Kim dynasty. However, the time when the North could profit from dragging the region to the brink of disaster is over. While its missile and nuclear programs may have been conceived to help maintain rule by the Kims, they have now put it in danger of destruction.