North Korea’s Barrage of 4 ER-Scuds Tit for Tat Response to US-South Korea Military Exercises.

As I am sure we all know North Korea launched 4 Extended Range Scud medium range ballistic missiles, with 3 landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The four missiles flew about 1000km, and reached an apogee of 250km. As David Wright points out that apogee means the missiles flew their full range.

Wright also stresses that the modifications that North Korea has made to the Scud have reached the outer limits to what can be done to enhance the Scud engine for a single missile.

Here is a picture of a previous, September 2016, launch of extended range Scuds. Compare with picture above.

The North Korean barrage of ER-Scuds occurred in the midst of large scale military exercises between the United States and North Korea, known as Foal Eagle. These military exercises in recent years have increased in scale, and have included leadership decapitation simulations, nuclear capable aircraft such as the B2 bomber, and large combined arms operational manoeuvres.

For example, the March 2016 exercises included B2 bombers.

North Korea has always had a thing about these exercises, always grumbles about them and always demonstrates this displeasure through action. One reason is that, much like the Soviet Union and Able Archer 83, North Korea considers these exercises a possible prelude to a full scale attack.

This is all well understood.

The North Koreans, essentially, have conducted an exercise of its own, which sends a belligerent message of its own. Namely, North Korea has simulated an attack on Japan with nuclear capable missiles and that in barrage form likely to simulate saturation of Ballistic Missile Defense.

The US simulates nuclear strikes. So did North Korea.

There could very well be an element of “tit for tat” at play here. This has been the preferred tactical approach of North Korea going back to Kim il Sung, and this was a point strongly made by Leon Sigal in an important book years ago that analysed North Korean strategy.

Sigal argued that graduated pressure on North Korea will only lead to an unending process of escalation as Pyongyang responds to US moves in a tit for tat fashion. Essentially, both George W Bush and Barack Obama used non-proliferation considerations to pursue a strategy of regime change based on gradually increasing the diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea until such time as a tipping point was reached leading to collapse of the regime.

The US, both Bush and Obama, were quite prepared to forego and to even scuttle diplomatic initiatives directed at the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. For instance, fake counterfeiting allegations by the Bush White House, leading to economic sanctions, finished off a denuclearisation accord the day after it was reached. Since then North Korea has not looked back.

For its part, North Korea has responded by increasing its strategic capabilities, especially its nuclear warhead and ballistic missile capabilities despite international condemnation and UN Security Council resolutions.

It looks like this sorry escalatory process is going to continue. The Trump administration is conducting a review of North Korea policy. According to a Reuters report after the latest North Korean missile launches

All options are on the table, ranging from tighter sanctions aimed at pushing North Korea back into disarmament talks, to a return of U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea, and even pre-emptive air strikes on North Korean missile installations, senior U.S. administration officials said.
They added a consensus was forming around relying for now on increased economic and diplomatic pressure – especially by pressing China to do more to rein in North Korea – while deploying advanced anti-missile defenses in South Korea and possibly in Japan, as well

That emerging consensus just means more of the same.

What is required is a bold initiative to kick start high level bilateral diplomacy between the United States and North Korea.

Years ago, I had written that we are tit for tatting our way to war on the Korean peninsula.

We are still driving down that road.

One option being discussed at the moment is returning North Korea to the Department of States’s state sponsors of terrorism list.

If that happens, expect an ICBM test.

Okay, you know I just can’t control myself. Somebody help me.