The Korean Missile Crisis: Is it a façade?

North Korea has been in the news recently due to test missile launches and the military march commemorating Kim Il Sung. (Ahn Young-joon/AP Exchange)

North Korea seems to be showing up in the news a lot lately. From missile test launches to large marches of military strength, where does the United States stand with the rogue nation?

Both countries have been flexing their muscles lately, most recently with the dropping of the MOAB in Afghanistan by the United States and a large-scale military march by North Korea commemorating the 105th birthday of founder Kim Il Sung. U.S. and Korean officials see each other’s moves as inflammatory.

Since my article in February regarding Korean’s test of the Pukguksung-2 pointed at Japan, Kim Jong Un has continued to conduct more missile launches, most of which have failed.

Ironically calling the Unites States “warmongers,” Korean officials warn of punishment against enemies. State-run media even went as far as to warn of a vague “super mighty pre-emptive strike”. But in an era of strong words and little action, should these threats be taken seriously?

The North Korean military parade showcased missiles and legions of troops’ gear as a show of strength, but experts have poked holes in this façade. Everything from large missiles “wobbling” in the wind to misaligned missile tips have been pointed out as obvious fakes.

The guns and gear carried by troops also led experts to question the authenticity. The types of sunglasses (not wrap-arounds) and gloves (fingerless) seen worn by troops were of no tactical advantage, according the tactical military experts.

Even the guns looked fake. Brightly colored with plastic-looking projectiles sticking out of the heads of the weapons has been described as “laughable” by former Army Intelligence Officer Michael Pregent. North Korea responded claiming some missiles shown in the parade were just prototypes.

Yet, just because actual weapons were not on display during the parade does not mean the entirety of North Korea’s army is just for show. Honestly, it does not make much sense to risk transporting missiles just to show them to the world when fakes can be made. Why risk a possible accident with an accidental detonation? After all, their launch systems seem wildly unreliable to begin with.

Fake or not, if it is any clue on how seriously the Unites States is treating this issue, in a briefing with key military leaders originally scheduled for the Capital Building, later relocated to the White House, all 100 U.S. Senators were in attendance, a really astonishing fact given the political landscape of the day.

Under the Obama administration, the United States agreed to set up a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system by the end of 2017. This agreement has been sped up and is expected to be set up in the next couple of days. The THAAD is designed to intercept any missile fired at South Korea. It can only be used as defense though, as it can only target incoming missiles.

The United States has also moved a nuclear submarine, the USS Michigan, and a group of warships led by aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, to the Korean peninsula. Tensions over this move are high. President Donald Trump has promised to send an “armada” to the peninsula if North Korea continues missile tests while Vise-President Mike Pence has warned that North Korea should not “test” Trump. One plan that came out of the Pentagon includes shooting down any North Korean missile test using anti-missile systems (Aegis) on U.S. warships. North Korea has responded by threatening to sink the aircraft carrier.

This exchange, compounded with reports that a U.S. citizen was detained while trying to leave the country has elevated tensions. Often accused of using prisoners as pawns, North Korea has a history of arresting and sentencing American citizens on suspicious charges.

North Korea is a worldwide threat. With Trump and Kim Jong Un bumping heads, it’s important to remember that any threat, real or not, is still a threat. The United States must tread the line between taking a firm stance on the rogue nation and instigating a war. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Cal), a member of the House Committee on Armed Services advises that “when dealing with an unpredictable regime, empty rhetoric can be dangerous."


David Csordas is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at david.csordas@uconn.edu.