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Int'l community faces tough decision as N. Korea remains defiant over missile program

A TV screen on a street in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward displays a report that a North Korean missile flew over Japan, on Sept. 15, 2017. (Mainichi)

SEOUL -- As North Korea advances its missile and nuclear development despite repeated warnings from world leaders, the international community is facing a difficult decision regarding whether to step up pressure on the secluded state or make moves to find an alternative breakthrough.

North Korea launched a ballistic missile on the morning of Sept. 15, a few days after the U.N. Security Council approved new sanctions on Pyongyang, sending a clear message that the country was moving forward with its missile and nuclear development regardless of the U.N. resolution. At the same time, the North rattled the United States by showing that its missiles can reach Guam -- a strategic zone for the U.S. military -- and proving that its plan to launch a missile around the U.S. island territory was not unrealistic. North Korea also likely intended to provoke Japan with the latest missile launch, as it was conducted just as Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was returning from his trip to India.

The Sept. 15 editorial of the Worker' Newspaper, the official paper of the Workers' Party of Korea, was titled "We will remain defiant under any pressure." It argued that while the United States has been acting as if the new sanctions are a big deal, what it actually is doing is "nothing but bluffing." The editorial went on to say that the U.S. has been "left stunned" by Pyongyang's constant display of force and that time and justice are siding with the North. It also claimed that the North was in control over the situation.

Every time North Korea goes ahead with a nuclear test or missile launch, the U.N. imposes tougher sanctions, dealing a blow to Pyongyang. However, the North appears to be more concerned about going ahead with provocative acts.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un commented after observing the Aug. 29 launch of an intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missile that the launch was the first step for military operations in the Pacific and that it was an "important prelude" to keep Guam in check, as Guam would be an "outpost for invasion." The distance that this missile flew was approximately 2,700 kilometers. In the latest launch on Sept. 15, the distance increased by roughly 1,000 kilometers -- exceeding the distance from North Korea to Guam of approximately 3,400 kilometers. The North thus exhibited its capacity to attack the U.S. territory in Micronesia.

Guam is a U.S. military hub with the capacity to launch precise attacks. It is the home to B-1 bombers, over which North Korea exercises extreme caution, and if an emergency situation were to arise on the Korean Peninsula, the island would serve as a central post for reinforcements. If such a location came under threat from North Korea, it would cause insecurity not only in the United States but also South Korea and Japan. This is why Pyongyang has stressed Guam is a target.

Kim Jong Un stated at the end of August that his country would continue to launch ballistic missiles into the Pacific and aggressively advance militarization with its strategic weapons. Furthermore, ahead of North Korea's nuclear test on Sept. 3, the North Korean media released photos of models of a hydrogen bomb planned to be fitted to a Hwasong-12 missile. By doing this, North Korea hinted at its will to continue missile launches until an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a nuclear warhead is completed, regardless of further pressure from the international community.

"We will conduct forceful actions beyond the U.S. imagination in a consecutive manner," Pyongyang said in a statement released on Sept. 11. North Korea is undoubtedly preparing the next provocative act -- whether that be another launch of an ICBM, the firing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, a seventh nuclear test or a launch toward Guam as the country has already indicated. If the United States does not show its willingness to sit at the negotiating table, it is expected that North Korea will pull out these cards.

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