North Korea Reportedly Launches an ICBM – Travel and Security Risks
5 Jul 2017
On 03 July 2017, North Korea claimed to have fired an intercontinental ballistic missile or ICBM. The missile travelled to an altitude of over 2,500km and a distance of 930km before falling into the Sea of Japan after around 40 minutes of flight. The US fears that this ICBM could have hit Alaska, certainly, and also possibly the continental United States. This launch, from Kusong in northwest North Korea, was the 10th so far in 2017.
- On 03 July 2017, North Korea reportedly launched an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile).
- In a similar fashion to other tests, the missile fell into the Sea of Japan. There are fears that it had the necessary capabilities to reach Alaska or continental USA.
- The missile was launched from an airfield in Kusong, northwest North Korea.
Armed Conflict: On 03 July 2017, North Korea claimed to have fired an intercontinental ballistic missile or ICBM. The missile travelled to an altitude of over 2,500km and a distance of 930km before falling into the Sea of Japan after around 40 minutes of flight. The US fears that this ICBM could have hit Alaska, certainly, and also possibly the continental United States. This launch, from Kusong in northwest North Korea, was the 10th so far in 2017.
Solace Global Comment
This missile launch by Pyongyang had obvious symbolism, occurring as it did the day before the US celebrates its Independence Day, only a few days before the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, and on the back of the visit by South Korean President Moon to the United States. At the summit, North Korea’s missile programme is due to be discussed. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un claimed that the US “was given a ‘package of gifts’ on its ‘Independence Day’.” Kim vowed to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees.”
The US has few diplomatic cards to play. South Korea and US military forces conducted a new training exercise preparing for a ballistic missile drill in the Sea of Japan, in response to this latest missile test. At present, the Trump administration has sought to increase its global influence by increasing military spending dramatically and cutting its non-military investment (such as aid, investment, and cultural schemes). This may prove to limit American options in the region. Keeping China onside is a priority and selling arms to Taiwan, as the US announced recently, is sure to damage diplomatic relations.
This launch will not have a significant short- or medium-term impact on South Korea. North Korea already possessed the weapons to hit any target in South Korea. This missile launch does not change the threat south of the demilitarised zone (DMZ). It does, however, put President Moon in a more difficult position. His rhetoric since becoming president earlier this year has struck a more conciliatory tone thanks to his predecessor, President Park. He has questioned the value of the THAAD missile defence system (the construction of which has irked Beijing and Pyongyang), agreed to meet Kim Jong-un, and vowed to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex – a North-South enterprise. This launch may make Moon less inclined to make concessions in any future discussions.
Threat to 2018 Olympic Games?
More posturing from Pyeongyang is possible during 2018’s Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea but the threat of an attack is low. North Korea is set to enter a team, albeit a small one, and will enter South Korea through the DMZ. Moreover, North Korea’s most important patrons, China and Russia (dependent on investigations into state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes) are set to enter significantly-sized teams. Thousands of travellers and dignitaries from both of these countries will visit South Korea in the lead up to, and during, the games. Pyongyang will not want to threaten their relationships with these two powers by attacking south of the DMZ during the Olympics.
The most prominent threat to the Olympic Games is if North Korea’s posturing leads to a poorly executed missile launch, with a missile hitting the South accidentally.
Russia and China Unite?
In the aftermath of this ICBM missile launch, Russia and China issued a joint statement calling for concessions from both sides of this issue. This showed that they differed greatly with the position of Washington DC on how to deal with the threat of Kim’s regime. While certainly not agreeing with or condoning North Korea’s actions, Presidents Putin and Xi used the launch as an opportunity to criticise US influence in the region, of which they are wary. Both Russia and China are concerned by the THAAD missile defence system which the US recently constructed in South Korea, as they fear it could be used to attack, not only defend. China especially is concerned with the potential for US troops at its border with North Korea. If the Pyongyang regime was to fall, this would be a potential eventuality.
What Does North Korea Want?
This is the question which analysts have failed to adequately answer for decades; no one can know for certain. The hermit country is never explicit with its true intentions (apart from its rhetoric to destroy the United States). North Korea, like all states, possesses a self-preservationist streak. They are well aware that should they successfully hit the United States, South Korea, or Japan, then the shackles would be off for the United States. China or Russia would be in no position to oppose a full US-led invasion of North Korea.
US increased assertiveness in the region gives Pyongyang some legitimisation for enhancing its weapons programme. Each time the US and South Korea or Japan conduct military exercises, Pyongyang feels vindicated in its own missile testing.
In the past, Pyongyang has suspended its missile and nuclear testing in response to agreements over deliveries of food aid. It could be that Kim Jong-un and the North Korean leadership are looking to use their weapons programme as a way to extract aid from the UN and the US. Their bargaining position for concessions may be improved if they portray themselves to be a credible threat to the security of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea; they may very well know this.
SECURITY ADVICEArmed ConflictSevere
The risk of armed conflict in the Korean Peninsula remains low. This is mostly due to the tangled web of international interests at play in this potential conflict. The delicacy of the present situation will probably remain for the short- to medium-term, as all sides know that a misstep could lead to a devastating conflict.
It is advisable that those with interests on the Korean Peninsula carefully follow developments over the coming months. This most recent launch does not appear to be a game-changer. It is still important to have an evacuation plan in place, especially for longer term deployments, due to the unpredictability of the security situation.
Solace Global would not advise clients of the need to employ enhanced security measures when visiting South Korea. Travellers should, however, maintain situational awareness and undertake sensible security precautions if visiting the country. It is also important to stay abreast of local media updates.
Travellers should also be aware difficulties of visiting North Korea. Due to control of the state, travelling with personal security is not possible. Travellers are usually required to travel with a state-recognised tour group, with state handlers. Travellers are also advised of the strict laws and punishments in the country. Travellers should also be aware that technology with a GPS function must be left with North Korean customs; this limits the ability of those from outside of North Korea to track a travellerâs movements.
Download Full Report
Please fill out form below to access the full report