The waiting game surrounding the seemingly inevitable conflict between the United States, its Pacific allies, and North Korea’s increasingly bellicose regime saw further escalation Tuesday. Newly imposed sanctions were approved with the hope of curbing North Korea’s pursuit of ICBM’s on Saturday. However, a report issued by the Japanese Defense Ministry three days later revealed that North Korea has possibly “achieved the miniaturization of nuclear weapons and has acquired nuclear warheads.”
The sanctions banned coal trading with North Korea and are intended to serve as a punitive measure expected to reduce the nation’s $3-billion export income by one-third. The sanctions were also aimed at reducing business transactions involving the U.S. dollar in North Korea, as the nation was identified as a “primary money laundering concern” by the Trump administration. However, these measures appear to have been unsuccessful in their aim of slowing or halting Kim Jong-Un’s pursuit of effective nuclear weapons
Japan’s report raised the level of urgency by the United States government to act swiftly yet carefully against North Korea, whether that means working in conjunction with China or through direct action:
"Since last year, when it forcibly implemented two nuclear tests and more than 20 ballistic missile launches, the security threats have entered a new stage," the Japanese Defense Ministry added in a 563-page document known as the Defense White Paper.
Japan has taken the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea quite seriously, as North Korea has conducted two ICBM tests this year alone which landed off Japan’s Western coast. Preparations have included air raid and evacuation drills, but Japan’s defense minister Itsunori Onodera has urged that the nation take a more offensive approach to stymieing North Korean aggression. The latest report of North Korea’s apparent successes in advancing their nuclear capabilities will only escalate that urgency.
Japan has embraced a solely defensive defense strategy since WWII, and such a departure is an indication of how seriously the nation’s leadership takes the threat of a nuclear North Korea. Clearly, Japan does not take seriously a statement issued by a North Korean official in the wake of the sanctions being announced which stated that the United States, should it threaten North Korea militarily, would be the sole target of its nuclear arsenal, unless its allies were to join in an attack. Either Japan distrusts North Korea completely, a likelihood, or would plan to aid the United States in any military aggression against the Kim regime, also a likely possibility. North Korea’s increasingly antagonistic public statements are leaving America and its allies with fewer options, appeasement now being out of the question.
The statement by North Korea read, in part:
‘If the U.S. attacks North Korea, the country “is ready to teach the U.S. a severe lesson with its nuclear strategic force,” the statement said. Other countries were not being threatened unless they joined the U.S. in a military attack, it said.
“The unwise conduct of the U.S. will only speed up its own extinction,” North Korea said in the statement, adding that the U.S. was getting “more frenzied and desperate” instead of learning to coexist with the country.’
The regime also vowed to never negotiate on its nuclear and missile programs, which have allowed the country to remain relevant on a global stage, something that Kim clearly relishes.
A ballistic nuclear test conducted in the waning days of July prompted experts to state that North Korea now has the capability to reach the continental United States with a missile, reaching as far inland as Denver. The United States responded in kind, conducting a ‘live fire exercise’ which included launching a series of missiles into the territorial waters off South Korea’s eastern coastline.
Japan’s latest report on North Korea’s potential acquisition of critical nuclear capabilities, along with North Korea’s recent public comments, has also prompted a strong response by the President. Instead of another military show of might, the President elected to deliver an unequivocal message to reporters as he was supposed to be vacationing in Bedminster, New Jersey:
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the U.S.,” the president said. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state,” he continued, referring apparently to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The prospect of conflict, or even war, with North Korea has not boded well for the stock market.
A subsequent dip in the Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P 500 after the President’s latest comments snapped a 10-session run of uninterrupted gains by Wall Street, which economists have linked to the latest developments surrounding North Korea.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been busy responding to the North Korean threat on several fronts, encouraging Asian nations such as Thailand and Malaysia to cut off business ties with North Korea. He also confronted Russia and China for not doing more to curb their financial ally’s increasing volatility:
“As the principal economic enablers of North Korea’s nuclear-weapon and ballistic-missile development program, China and Russia bear unique and special responsibility for this growing threat to regional and global stability,” he said.
China’s Foreign Ministry has said it opposes further missile tests by North Korea, but it appears that more than hollow condemnation will be required from North Korea’s primary financial backer.
At this point, the solution to ending North Korea’s increasingly frequent bellicosity must be worked out behind closed doors, but it appears that the time for forming a solution is waning. The most direct threat to America and its allies in decades has reportedly attained the weaponry and capability to reach the United States, not to mention its allies in South Korea and Japan.
How the resolution will look, and when it will be enacted, appears to be the next major step in this ongoing, still-bloodless conflict.