North Korea has launched projectiles toward the Sea of Japan while U.S.-South Korea joint military drills are underway. The objects have yet to be identified, with Seoul believing they were rocket shells and Washington suspecting them to be three missiles. In any case, North Korea betrayed the international community, which had hoped that Pyongyang would exercise self-restraint.
U.S. President Donald Trump had welcomed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's suggestions that Pyongyang intended to postpone a plan to launch missiles targeting Guam, and expressed hope that something positive might happen.
Trump made the remarks in an apparent bid to ease tensions between the United States and North Korea with an eye to holding dialogue between the two countries. It is therefore extremely regrettable that the North has made radical remarks on the U.S.-South Korea military exercise and went ahead with launching projectiles.
Aug. 26 is the day after the anniversary of North Korea adopting its military-first policy. Since it declared that it would launch missiles, Kim may have thought he would lose face if Pyongyang did nothing. In fact, the North test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile the day before the anniversary last year.
North Korea recently launched projectiles possibly on the assumption of attacking South Korea. However, some observers speculate that the North exercised a certain degree of self-restraint as Guam and the U.S. mainland are apparently not within their range.
Still, the possibility cannot be ruled out that Pyongyang will prepare to launch more missiles and conduct further nuclear tests to provoke the United States, depending on Washington's reaction to the latest launch. North Korea should immediately stop playing with fire that only heightens tensions in the international community.
At the same time, it is extremely difficult for the international community to pressure North Korea into abandoning its nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang's ultimate goal appears to become fully prepared to attack the United States with land- and sea-based nuclear missiles.
The 1994 U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework and the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program that began in 2003 failed to produce positive results primarily because Pyongyang only attempted to buy time during these processes. China and Russia have also failed to take a tough stance toward Pyongyang. North Korean missiles that are targeted at the United States can also hit China and Russia. Even though the latter two countries are traditionally friendly with North Korea, it would not be beneficial to Beijing and Moscow in the long run to defend the North's position to develop nuclear arms.
U.S. ties with China and Russia are not smooth, but these major powers should be aware that unless they join hands with each other, it is impossible to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.