Commentary: How long more can North Korea get away with aggressive missile tests?

Commentary: How long more can North Korea get away with aggressive missile tests?

Last week’s missile tests encroaching on Southern waters for the first time provoked South Korean President Yoon Seok-Yeol to term the launch a “territorial invasion”. South Korea fired missiles in response.

Last month, North Korea fired a missile over Japan without warning – a blatant violation of sovereignty. It attempted to do so again last week, although that test failed.

The concern here is over a misfire or flight failure. Last week’s failed missile broke up before it neared Japan, while last month’s successfully cleared the archipelago. But if a missile were to fail over Japan itself, the debris field might land on the country and kill people.

It is unclear what Japan would do in response. There would be political pressure for counterbattery fire, and even if that were not to occur, a major Japanese defence build-up, complete with an extensive missile force to strike North Korea rapidly, would likely ensue.

The same logic applies to South Korea, where there has long been anxiety that North Korea would test a missile southward, flying over South Korea itself. Any casualties from falling debris would provoke a peninsular security crisis. Worse, both Japan and South Korean might mistake a missile test for an actual attack and respond in kind.

And if all that were not enough, this spate of North Korean missile launches may well be laying the groundwork for an even more provocative nuclear test – rumoured for this year. North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon since 2017.

There is burgeoning discussion in South Korea about counter-nuclearisation to compete with North Korea nukes. Seventy per cent of the South Korean public supports this option, and that number would almost certainly rise if a nuclear test caps this year of provocations.

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