Sometime between December 10 and December 22, North Korea plans on launching a long-range missile that is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The time-frame is scheduled to coincide with events marking the first anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il (Dear Leader), father of the current ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. It is also the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung (Great Leader), the founder of the current political system in North Korea. Since both men are officially revered as almost super-human leaders, this is an important month for the new leader and a good time to solidify his own leadership position. In addition, and not so coincidentally, South Korea will be electing a new president on December 19.
This announced launch comes despite a UN ban on missile launches and nuclear testing for North Korea. Back in April, North Korea attempted a launch of a long-range missile and failed, causing great embarrassment for the regime (as with the humiliating losses of the soccer team during the World Cup, it makes me wonder what happened to those scientists…) The North Korean government has already tested short- and medium-range missiles successfully; all of those missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads…which they continue to develop, with the help of the Iranians.
Realist theorists will argue that North Korea should be allowed to develop its technologies and defenses as it pleases. After all, it is a sovereign nation and, like the rest of us, is existing in an anarchical, sometimes hostile international arena. However, no nation-state has announced or attempted to seek the destruction of North Korea. Culture-based resistance to globalization as an argument, does not fly either in this case. Unless you call a state based on (actual) worship of leaders and a gulag system of prison camps and a border designed to keep people in, rather than out, a culture.
The announcement and presumed follow-through of the missile launch demonstrates several issues that are important in international affairs. First of all, the demonstrated technological advances of North Korea serve to heighten security in the region. The United States has obligations with regard to Japan’s security and defense as well as to South Korea. This means that we cannot sit this one out. Secondly, while many analysts may suggest that the U.S. is not in a position to tell other nations whether they may or may not develop nuclear weapons, we need to remember that North Korea has used its missile launches and tests in an attempt to influence political outcomes and/or gain concessions from the international community in the past. This is nothing short of black mail and does not make for a healthy international community. Appeasement has not worked in the past and it will not work in this instance either.
Finally, this is one more data point that can be used to empirically demonstrate the general lack of influence and weakness of the United Nations in any aspect of international relations.