North Korea Fires Missile Over Japan: What Happens Next?
The U.N. Security Council will likely try to pass another round of sanctions, but sanctions have done nothing to stop North Korea from advancing its nuclear missile program, and will probably exacerbate an already volatile situation, says Christine Ahn of Women Cross DMZ
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Early Tuesday morning, North Korea launched an international missile over northern Japan. The move sparked outrage among the Japanese, who were given warnings from the government to take cover should part of the missile fall on Japan. This latest missile test comes after North Korea launched three short-range missiles last Saturday. Here’s what Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, had to say.
VOICE OVER: The North Korean missile it has launched passed over our nation and landed in the Pacific Ocean. The government has been monitoring the launch from the moment it was fired, and we have done our utmost to ensure the safety of the people. The missile which passed over our nation represents the greatest and gravest threat to our nation ever. It also is an egregious threat to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region. We have lodged a strong protest with North Korea to that effect. I call for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, and while working with the international community, we will demand even stronger measures against North Korea at the United Nations. Under the strong U.S.-Japan alliance, we are prepared for all eventualities. We will ensure the safety of the people and remain on high alert.
SHARMINI PERIES: A few weeks ago, President Trump had warned North Korea that U.S. could unleash fire and fury on the country if it did not stop its missile tests. Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, on her way into the Security Council meeting that was just mentioned, called on what she said, our partners, China and Russia, to assist in this matter.
NIKKI HALEY: No country should have missiles flying over them like those 130 million people in Japan. It’s unacceptable. They have violated every single UN Security Council resolution that we’ve had, and so I think something serious has to happen.
SPEAKER: Will you be proposing new sanctions today against North Korea?
NIKKI HALEY: I think we have a lot to talk about today, and so with all of our partners, what we hope is that China and Russia continue to work with us like they have in the past on North Korea, but I think enough is enough.
SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us to examine this latest development in North Korea is Christine Ahn. Christine is the founder and International Coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing for peace in Korea. She is also co-founder of Korea Policy Institute and Korea Peace Network. Thanks for joining us today, Christine.
CHRISTINE AHN: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Christine, let’s begin with what this latest development and missile over Japan is all about, what instigated this. There seemed to have been some calm in the region for a while, for a few days I should say, but it seemed to have, tensions seemed to have calmed down, but it’s of course back heightened again.
CHRISTINE AHN: I think it’s pretty significant for a number of reasons. For one, as you mentioned earlier, Trump had made these threats of unleashing fire and fury, and that the U.S. was locked and loaded, prepared for, following in the words of H.R. McMaster, preventive war, and that’s basically code war, codeword for a preemptive strike on North Korea. What we’re seeing is a range of perspectives from the Trump administration. You have, on the one hand, the so-called grown-ups, Mattis and Tillerson, saying, “We don’t advocate regime change.” Yet you have people like Mike Pompeo from the CIA saying, “We are about regime change,” and so when you have a tense situation where already there has been heightened rhetoric on both sides, and now these war games are going on, they involve 50,000 South Korean troops. They involve 17,500 U.S. soldiers.
It’s the world’s largest simulated computer war games. They involve preemptive strikes, tactical strikes, surgical strikes, decapitation, so from the North Korean perspective, they see it as rehearsal for invasion. When they also hear words like from H.R. McMaster, the country’s leading national security advisor, that the U.S. is poised to conduct a preemptive strike on North Korea, I think that their launching this missile across Japan is symbolic for a few reasons. One is, we know that North Korea has capability to attack Seoul, where there’s 25 million people. That’s 35 miles from the DMZ, but it also has the capacity to strike Japan, and so basically now it’s not just about the U.S. considering a preemptive strike, but what are the consequences to U.S. allies in the region, and that includes South Korea. It includes Japan.
Another significant factor is that the missile was evidently launched from within the Pyongyang vicinity, and that’s pretty significant because when the U.S. considers these preemptive strikes, they want to strike in areas that are more in remote areas, but the fact that a U.S. preemptive strike would be launched towards Pyongyang, where there is the highest population of North Koreans living, would also show this huge collateral damage that would result from any kind of U.S. preemptive strike. This is North Korea demonstrating its deterrence, and it’s an unfortunate situation. Another unfortunate situation is now, as you mentioned, the UN Security Council is meeting. They’re going to try to pass another round of sanctions, and as we know, it has done nothing to stop North Korea from advancing its nuclear missile program, and what it has done is further isolated North Korea, has further angered them, and so we are in a very volatile and dangerous situation.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Christine, what do you make of the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe’s response to this missile launch?
CHRISTINE AHN: Well, it was virtually a non-response. I mean, Shinzo Abe has been one of the most militaristic, aggressive prime ministers from Japan in some time, and so he has been obviously trumpeting what the Trump line has been towards North Korea, and I think North Korea is unfortunately including Japan in its counterattack if the U.S. were to conduct a preemptive strike.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. As the Security Council is meeting and considering, perhaps, sanctions, what other alternatives do they have? What else could they be doing?
CHRISTINE AHN: Well, the clear solution in this very tense time is the freeze-for-freeze, and this is a proposal that was put on the table first by the North Koreans two years ago. It has then been followed up by the Chinese and the Russians, and even Moon Jae-in’s senior envoy, Moon Chung-in, before the Trump-Moon summit in June, had floated the idea in Washington of somehow scaling back the exercises. What it would entail is North Korea freezing its nuclear and missile testing in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea halting its military exercises. This is not just North Korea, China, and Russia saying this, but this has also backed by former government officials, U.S. government officials. For example, John Merrill, who was the head of the State Department East Asia Intelligence Bureau. He has said this is the most viable option. There is nothing at stake for the U.S. to do this. The U.S. and South Koreans have obviously demonstrated their capability to deter the scale in terms of South Korean and U.S. military capacity and technology, warfare. Just, North Korea pales in comparison to that.
Yes, North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, but in terms of the potential devastation, the U.S. would obviously completely destroy North Korea. And so this is a viable proposal, and so it’s up to the peace movements in the United States, along with the peace movement in South Korea, to advocate for this, because this is … You would think that if the Trump administration, as he tweeted earlier this year, a long-range missile from North Korea would never land on, or never reach the U.S. Well, if that is the case, then they should get to work right away in trying to negotiate some kind of off-ramp to this dangerous conflict.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, you mentioned the peace movements in South Korea and, of course, the U.S. and many other parts of the world. What is their role in this particular conflict, and are they being effective? Are they being heard at the UN, for example?
CHRISTINE AHN: Well, I think that the peace movements have not been as strong as we were, and when we look back to the Iraq War, and, I mean, the peace movements around the world mobilized. Perhaps it was the world’s largest mobilization and protest of a U.S. military invasion. There have been some strings, I think, that in some ways the U.S. peace movement has been a victim of a very successful propaganda campaign from the U.S. and from corporate media that just vilifies and portrays North Korea as this crazy place, but that falls completely contrary to even people like Madeleine Albright, who went and met with the former father, the former leader of North Korea, and said, “This is the regime we can negotiate with.” Bill Perry, the former Secretary of Defense, who negotiated North Korea’s nuclear weapons program for 12 years, has said this is a rational … Yes, it’s a brutal dictatorship, but this is a rational regime. We should negotiate with it at all costs.
I think that it has been a little bit paralyzed because of the way that North Korea is, and its gross human rights records, but we have to place it in a historical and geopolitical context. We have to understand that North Korea is a very paranoid place, and it’s not just their imagination. As I mentioned, these are the world’s largest military exercises, planning an invasion of North Korea, and also, I thought this was really interesting, there was a piece in Esquire by Jean Lee. She used to be the AP bureau chief in Pyongyang. She in fact opened the AP offices there in the mid-2000s, and she wrote a piece, and it was about the murder of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s brother. Do you remember? He was assassinated in Malaysia.
The really interesting thing at the end of her story was a short paragraph that said that Japanese media found footage of the hotel that Kim Jong-nam was staying the night before he was assassinated, and he was caught on the security cameras meeting with a known U.S. spy, and in fact he was wearing the same jacket and carrying the same backpack, and in that backpack what was found was $125,000 of U.S. cash. We know that the Obama administration had a cyberwarfare program, and clearly the CIA has played a role in trying to topple regimes all around the world, so North Korea is justifiably paranoid, and so we need to do everything to assure them that if it is true that the Trump administration is not seeking regime change, we need to start dialogue. We’ll never know whether North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear program, stop its missile tests, unless we actually sit down and talk with them.
SHARMINI PERIES: Christine, as Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was about to step into the Security Council meeting, she’s called on Russia and China to assist in this matter. It is often seen that China has leverage with North Korea. What can they do about the situation?
CHRISTINE AHN: Well, I think that’s, unfortunately, another myth that is perpetuated in the U.S. corporate media, is that China has leverage. Well, in fact, North Korea has, during the Sino-Soviet split, I mean, the North Koreans used one off of each other. I mean, the fact that there has been a historic alliance between China and North Korea following the Korean War is that China has, obviously, key role to play, given that it was a signatory to the ceasefire, the 1953 Armistice Agreement that included signatures from the U.S. as the head of the UN command that also included South Korea, but it also included the DPRK and included China. So obviously, China has a responsibility to help end the Korean War, and it has been calling for this freeze. It has been calling for patience.
It has called for calm, but obviously China does not want a U.S.-backed Korean Peninsula along its borders, so here we are again back in the Cold War and with the THAAD missile defense system that’s being deployed into South Korea that China views a surveillance tool, as a projection of U.S. power in the Asia-Pacific region, and as a potential standoff with China. China is obviously trying to maneuver its position as well vis-à-vis the United States, geopolitically.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Doesn’t China have some leverage, though? I mean, they do have a huge partnership in terms of commerce and trade in the country, and as you said, they’re going to be shut out even more if they don’t engage North Korea in some dialogue.
CHRISTINE AHN: Absolutely. I mean, you’re right. China has definitely been the economic lifeline to the North Koreans. It’s its largest trading partner. It is what has enabled North Korea to grow economically, and so absolutely it does, but it’s very confusing to know exactly what … I think on one hand it has gone along with U.S. actions in the Security Council to pass more stringent sanctions against North Korea as a way to negotiate a better trade settlement with the U.S., but also to try to deescalate the U.S. from pursuing a military confrontation with North Korea. That’s my sense, is the reasons why China has gone along with the U.S. in further isolating North Korea.
SHARMINI PERIES: I’m speaking with Christine Ahn. She is the founder and International Coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement for women mobilizing for peace in Korea. I thank you so much for joining us today, Christine.
CHRISTINE AHN: Thank you very much.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.