Sunday 15 September 2019

Julian Ryall: 'North Korean weapons test is a shot across bow of Trump'

Kim Jong-un. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Kim Jong-un. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Julian Ryall

The test-firing of an "ultramodern tactical weapon" by the North Korean military sends messages to both domestic and international audiences, with the presence of Kim Jong-un at Friday's exercises underlining Pyongyang's resolve to stand up to Washington.

North Korean state media reported that the North Korean leader "supervised" a test of a weapon that is "a decisive turn in the fighting capacity of the Korean People's Army".

The South Korean government believes the new weapon to be a long-range artillery piece - possibly a mobile launcher for conventional rockets with an advanced guidance system -that has been in development since the rule of Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011.

"There have been reports in recent years that the North was developing long-range artillery that would be able to hit the US garrison at Camp Humphreys or the air force base at Osan," said Daniel Pinkston, professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University. The two bases are critical to US forces' ability to defend South Korea and both are about 100km from the Demilitarised Zone that divides the peninsula.

"It's clear that they are still working on conventional weapons systems, which is important to the North's leadership and its view of the world that it needs a robust military capability," he said. "The message this sends is aimed at an inter-Korean audience and China and says that Pyongyang remains resolute, that it refuses to be pushed around and that it will continue to exploit any benefits that it can find."

The test will also have been aimed squarely at the US, believes James Brown, an associate professor who specialises in North Korean issues at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, who believes the process of scrapping the North's nuclear weapons capabilities in return for lifting sanctions has "become stuck".

"The two sides each feel that the other needs to do more," he said. "The US says the North must take more steps on its nuclear programmes and has threatened to restart large-scale military exercises if that does not happen.

"The North Koreans think they have done enough and that it is time for the US to ease some of the sanctions, and their threat is that they will go back to carrying out nuclear tests again," he said.

The test of a conventional weapons system - albeit a potent one - is significant on a political level more than on an operational level, Mr Brown said, with Mr Kim's presence elevating the importance of the test even further.

Donald Trump appears to be in no mood to grant concessions. The US perceives North Korea as dragging its feet on coming clean on its nuclear capabilities and busy soliciting help from other nations - notably China and Russia - to support its calls for sanctions to be lifted.

Irish Independent

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