Hwasong-15 Missile: What's Next?

On the night of November 29, 2017, the DPRK tested the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile. According to Pentagon, the missile flew about 1000 km and fell into the Sea of Japan. The North Korean military emphasizes that the Hwasong-15 is capable to carry an "extremely heavy nuclear warhead" and reach any point in the mainland of the United States. The DPRK leader Kim Jong-un after the successful test of the new Hwasong-15 missile said, that his country had fulfilled "the great historical task ", creating a full-fledged nuclear missile force.

Does the appearance of Pyongyang's ability for a nuclear missile strike against Washington change something? In fact, nothing, except that the situation around Korea has entered a new round of tension. Let’s recall, that on September 19, 2017, the US President Donald Trump from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly promised to "totally destroy" the DPRK, if the US has no other choice and if Pyongyang would not be reasonable. In turn, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un responded that Trump will "pay dearly" for the threats against his country.

For Russia such a situation is unacceptable. Moscow does not recognize the DPRK’s status as a nuclear power, considers the recent actions of Pyongyang as provocative, which create a threat to security in Northeast Asia. But at the same time Russia rejects the solution of the problem by any means other than the political one.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, speaking on November 27 at the 8th Asian Conference of the Valdai Discussion Club, presented the Russian stage-by-stage plan for the settlement of the crisis on the Korean peninsula. According to the Deputy Foreign Minister, the first step should be the reduction of military tension. Its starting point is the so-called "double freezing" - suspension of missile launches and nuclear tests by the DPRK in exchange for the suspension of military exercises by the United States and South Korea. This proposal may be taken well by Pyongyang - similar ideas were already voiced earlier by the North Korean leadership in January 2015 and January 2016.

The second stage means direct negotiations of the DPRK with the United States and South Korea on the principles of peaceful coexistence. "And finally, at the third stage, after such negotiations take place, it would be necessary to launch a process with all the involved countries to discuss the entire complex of issues of collective security in Asia," Morgulov said. 

Is the US ready to work on such a road map? The reaction of President Trump to the current launch of Hwasong-15 was rather low-key. Unlike his speech in the United Nations on the complete destruction of the DPRK, he simply said that "we will take care of it".  Vice President Pence promised to use all the resources, so that "Washington will keep up economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to curb its nuclear and ballistic missile programs." Secretary of State Tillerson called to all countries to increase diplomatic and political pressure against Pyongyang.

It seems that the US and its allies are still determined to concentrate all political and diplomatic efforts to resolve the DPRK's nuclear missile problem through adoption of new sanctions against Pyongyang. Washington deliberately ignores the fact that the nuclear problem of the Korean peninsula is the direct result of the longstanding confrontation between the two Korean states, and the solution of the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula is closely connected with inter-Korean normalization, the development of relations between the DPRK and South Korea. The success here can be achieved only with the simultaneous solution of both tasks, namely, the freezing of North Korea's military nuclear program with its subsequent cessation, and political detente on the Korean peninsula.

The resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council on North Korean nuclear and missile tests are rather tough. Nevertheless, there should not be an unreasonably broad interpretation of the stipulated articles and the adoption of new more stringent sanctions. The UN Security Council's resolutions cannot be regarded as a ground for aggravation of the economic and humanitarian situation of the DPRK people.

Washington and Seoul should also weigh the costs of deploying the American THAAD system in South Korea. The appearance of THAAD will undoubtedly push Pyongyang to build up its military potential further. Even if there are no new nuclear explosions, it is necessary to expect new waves of bellicose rhetoric and new missile launches from the North Korean side, as well as the appearance of new elements of US military infrastructure in South Korea.

The return of the Korean issue to the UN agenda could also play a positive role. Now is the right time for this. Ban Ki-moon, being a South Korean, could not be impartial in his approaches to the DPRK, and Pyongyang emphatically ignored him. António Guterres, his successor as Secretary-General of the United Nations, previously  was not associated with Korea, and therefore could show a fairly objective and constructive approach to the inter-Korean settlement and, above all, to replace the 1953 Korea Armistice Agreement with a full-fledged peace treaty. Such a treaty should not be just a non-aggression pact between participants in the Korean War, but a much broader document on partnership that would make the DPRK a full-fledged participant in the international arena. The peace treaty parties should be two Korean states, while five permanent members of the UN Security Council would act as guarantors of the parties' compliance to their obligations.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.