Recently in June, North Korea launched a series of short-range missiles, all of which were fired in the timespan of 35 minutes from four different locations. That raises North Korea’s total tally of missile tests to thirty-one, in just a year 2022 alone. Earlier in the month of May, hours after President Biden departed from his five-day trip to South Korea and Japan, it was suspected that North Korea also tested an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).
Kim Jong-un’s testing of an unprecedented number of missiles has surely caught international attention, especially because his testing of short-range missiles has expanded over the last three years. He justifies this by claiming North Korea is well within its right to use a nuclear arsenal, if and because there is a threat to the security of the state. There is growing concern that the aggressive and provocative statements and actions of North Korea pose a direct threat in the region.
Understanding the matter better
It is important to remember that before this event took place, South Korea and USA had a joint naval military exercise, that included the US’ Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-ton nuclear-power aircraft carrier, among other major warships. It is common practice for states to pursue joint military exercises to not just strengthen bilateral military ties but also to signal to any third country that they have an influence in the region. To that end, we could suggest that through this joint exercise, the US was trying to signal to the other countries in that region that they have a strong influence in their region. North Korea would not take lightly of this, and arguably feeling that their national security and sovereignty were threatened, they resorted to testing nuclear arsenals the very next day after the joint military exercise ended.
For a fuller understanding, let’s look at this incident from the theoretical framework proposed by Scott D. Sagan in his article Why the Do States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models in Search of a Bomb. Mr. Sagan identified three models due to which states build nuclear weapons or stop attaining them: security, domestic politics, and norms. We can understand North Korea’s recent testing by drawing explanations from the Security Model. Mr Sagan explains that whenever there is an external military threat to the state, where the state feels inferior, it will try to attain nuclear weapons.
]According to a realist’s perspective, the international system is anarchic and therefore states rely on self-help. Coupling this concept, stronger states do what they want and weaker states do what they must. For that reason, the bandwagon and try to acquire nuclear weapons in order to deter their external threat.
The way forward
Considering the US, Japan and South Korea have built a strong alliance, North Korea would consider it a direct threat to themselves. If two of your perceived enemies are holding joint military exercises, then in response to them, you may resort to serious action to dilute the threat. Hence, it appears North Korea performed these missile tests in order to show off its military muscle and to signal to the rest of the world that it has the potential and will to take immediate action if anyone tries to harm its national security.
In response to North Korea’s barrage of nuclear missiles, South Korea and the U.S. launched eight ground-to-ground Army Tactical Missile System missiles (ATACMS). By this, they are trying to approach North Korea’s missile tests differently, by taking equivalent action against the North’s missile launches. The security model of Scott Sagan gets applied over here as well because South Korea’s security also got threatened by the act of North Korea and for their own safety, they had to take this step.
Read more: North Korea role in East Asian Region
It appears the revenge battle between both of these states will not stop and continue to spread instability in the Pacific region and will also increase nuclear proliferation. So, to abate nuclear proliferation and bring peace and prosperity to the region, both the states should negotiate together to reach for a collective peaceful and prosperous region. As said by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Peace at home is peace in the country, and Peace in the country is peace in the world.
The writer is associated with Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) and currently doing my major in Strategic Studies at National Defence University, Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.