By Mikaela Tenner
Many Americans remember last year’s controversy surrounding the release of The Interview, a comedy about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. There was media fanfare, threats of violence from North Korea, and countless jokes about the Supreme Leader and his country. For years, North Korea and its regime have been a bit of a joke for mainstream Western culture, who have consistently mocked the country for its lofty threats and unadulterated hatred of Western culture. Although the country is extraordinarily hostile towards the U.S. and its allies, most Westerners have typically assumed that North Korea will never gain enough power or momentum to act upon their threats. However, recent events have revealed drastic technological advances in North Korea, revealing that they may not be far off from acting upon their threats of warfare.
On Feb. 7, North Korea launched a rocket far larger than it has ever set aloft in the past. According to anonymous reports, the rocket launched by North Korea appears to be far larger and more developed than many thought they were capable of. The same reports disclosed that the newly launched rocket weighs in at close to 500 kg, more than three times larger than the last rocket they fired. Further records indicate that this rocket is likely to have a range of 13,000 km, 3000 more than the last rocket North Korea sent into orbit. This large size indicates that North Korea has been rapidly developing its rocket technology, and has likely made improvements to weapons over the past few years as well. This launch, and subsequent discovery seemingly surprised Western leaders, and once again, emphasized North Korea’s hostile tensions towards the West.
Since the launch, a variety of news commentators been trying to figure out why it is exactly that North Korea chose now to launch the rocket. Many news stations have credited North Korea’s constant desire to prove their power as the driving force behind the rocket launch. However, other commentators have suggested that they were responding to China’s recent rejection of a summit with North Korea. Earlier in the year, Kim was said to be pushing for a meeting with China’s President Xi Zinping, but the President was not interested. These commentators suggest that the rocket may have been a statement to show China that they made a grave mistake by refusing the meeting. On the other, hand, it could also be an act of hostility directed at South Korea, with whom North Korea has had rising tensions over the past weeks. Some say that was refused, likely due to Korea. Recently, North Korea sent balloons filled with garbage and anti-South Korean pamphlets over their shared border, and the rocket launch could have been yet another act of hostility towards South Korea. Regardless of who the rocket was intended to intimidate however, the launch of the North Korean rocket is of concern for the whole world.
Paired with additional unauthorized nuclear tests in January, this rocket launch indicates that North Korea is rapidly moving towards becoming a large, threatening power on the world stage. According to U.S. Intelligence Chief, James Clapper, North Korea has already taken steps towards the creation of an intercontinental ballistic missile system, and are taking no steps to slow or halt nuclear production, despite international demands to the contrary. If nothing further is done, it is likely that North Korea’s weapon base will only continue to get stronger.
It is clear that the current pressure that international bodies are placing on North Korea simply is not enough to prevent them from pursuing devastating weapons. Unfortunately, the UN has virtually no power beyond scolding North Korea, and therefore the impact that they are having on North Korea is minimal. The two most suitable countries to confront this worrisome situation would be the U.S. and North Korea, as they are the two countries that North Korea is the most openly hostile towards. However, it is unlikely that these two countries would have much leverage over North Korea, considering that they appear to be the two locations to which the Supreme Leader wishes the most ill upon. However, if the U.S. and South Korea perhaps worked with China to structure some type of trade deal with North Korea, they may have a bit more success. It is clear from Kim’s request for a summit, that he desires to work with China in the future, and working out a trade plan in exchange for going to discussions regarding their nuclear and weapons program could potentially be a viable option. Although it may seem unfeasible given the present-day situation, a decade ago one likely would have said the same about nuclear talks with Iran, and that is now a reality. It is important that the world continues to focus on the threat that North Korea faces, and see them as a tangible threat rather than a comedy figure. If they do not begin to look for viable alternatives, North Korea’s technological advancements could have devastating effects.