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North Korea's Missile Launch Shows Significant Progress

Walter Russell Mead

Even as Japanese, Chinese and South Korean foreign ministers, attending a pre-arranged summit, harshly criticized Pyongyang, the Hermit Kingdom managed to lob a submarine-launched missile much farther than they have managed to do in the past. The Wall Street Journal:

The missile was fired from near the port of Sinpo on North Korea’s eastern coast at around 5:30 a.m. Seoul time Wednesday. It traveled about 300 miles (482 kilometers), according to the U.S. military, before falling into the sea.

North Korea began testing submarine-launched missiles in late 2014 but flight distances had been limited to a few miles at most. The previous most recent missile launched from a submarine in July failed in the early stage of flight, according to South Korea’s defense ministry.

With the United States upgrading the Nork nuke program from potential to practical threat last week, their latest progress in submarine launching capacity underscores the reality that northeast Asia is in the midst of the most dangerous arms race in decades. The world’s nastiest government is rapidly increasing the power and range of its weapons.

The local consequences for the region are terrible: Japan will respond with more hawkish policies and more weapons programs. China will see that as a challenge to its own position, and nationalist Chinese opinion will feel threatened by Japan and come up with countermeasures of its own.

The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations all tried to deal with this problem. All failed. Asia is much closer to war now than it was when the Cold War ended and the American illusion of the inexorable emergence of a peaceful world looks less likely as well.

The grim truth is that we cannot stop the march of technological progress, and that march doesn’t always lead to pleasant places. Nukes and fancy missiles get easier and cheaper to make with each passing year; computers don’t just help the good guys.

American elites like to boast about how much smarter and more globally aware they are than the ignorant masses in flyover country, but neither the elites nor the masses have yet awoken to the grim state of the world. The structure of peace whose foundations were laid back in the Truman administration are much, much weaker than at any time since the 1950s. America’s key alliances have been hollowed out, American strategy has lost its way, and the American political system is at a low ebb. In the absence of effective leadership and clear thinking at the top, the American consensus for a serious and realistic world policy is fraying from week to week.

That a tiny, impoverished country without a great history of scientific research has been able to advance this far in the Dark Arts, and all the institutions of the “international community,” all the “smart diplomacy” of a quarter century of American liberal AND conservative statesmanship have failed to prevent North Korea from achieving its goals tells us just how far the world has drifted away from the path of security and peace.

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