The likelihood of war with North Korea is “increasing every day”, according to the American national security adviser HR McMaster, who said on Saturday that the rogue state’s latest launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) had significantly increased international tensions.
“I think it’s increasing every day,” he told Fox News host Bret Baier, pointing to the latest North Korean missile launch, which attained an altitude way in excess of previous long-range weapons. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has set his ambitions on obtaining the nuclear capability to strike at the American mainland.
“The greatest immediate threat to the United States and to the world is the threat posed by the rogue regime in North Korea,” Mr McMaster said. “Every time he conducts a missile launch, a nuclear test, he gets better.”
North Korean state media boasted this week that the successful test of the Hwasong-15, the newest missile in its arsenal, meant it was now capable of delivering a “super-large heavy warhead” to America.
This opinion has been confirmed by military experts familiar with the technology, who say the missile could have followed a trajectory that would have put cities such as Washington DC and New York within range. It is unclear if the technology exists to mount a heavy nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
Separately, The Sunday Times reported that Donald Trump’s frustration with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping is growing; during their recent meetings Mr Jingping had “pledged to use Beijing’s economic might to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.”
The two months before this week’s launch led some to hope that Pyongyang had been reined in by its larger neighbour. But when the North Koreans pulled off the successful deployment of the Hwasong-15, Mr Trump let his frustration with the Chinese show.
“The Chinese envoy who has just returned from North Korea seems to have had no impact on Little Rocket Man,” Trump tweeted, referring to Kim Jong-Un.
In its analysis of the situation, the newspaper notes that despite personal animosity between the leaders of China and North Korea, the US fails to recognise Mr Jingping’s prime concern: to avoid the collapse of the hermit state that would send millions of refugees across the border into China.
That is why the Chinese will not cut off the oil supplies that are the lifeblood of the North Korean economy.
Tong Zhao, a Beijing-based expert on the North’s nuclear programme, told The Sunday Times that. “Beijing and Washington have fundamentally different interpretations of the threat and intent behind North Korea’s weapons programme. That means they have a very different strategy to handle it.”
It is also important to understand the personal concerns that are driving Kim Jong Un’s seemingly reckless and relentless pursuit of a deterrent that scares America. Having seen how fellow authoritarian leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi ended up being killed after they stood up to the West, he has no desire to suffer the same fate.
“You cannot overestimate the importance of those events to Kim’s psyche,” a western diplomat recently posted to Pyongyang told the newspaper. “He is convinced that Saddam and Gadaffi suffered their fates because they did not have WMD to defend themselves. From his perspective, he is not going to make the same mistake. So he is determined to build a nuclear arsenal. And he will never negotiate it away.”
And this view of the world is seemingly endorsed by some in Beijing. the Global Times newspaper, which is watched by many to get the idea of what is going on behind the scenes in the Communist Party leadership, sees Pyongyang as now holding all the trump cards.
“The leverage exerted by the international community on North Korea is almost exhausted,” it wrote. “Now Pyongyang is extremely confident. Condemnation by the UN security council and possible new sanction measures are equal to a few more grains of dust on its body, or a few more drops of rain.”