The Economist July 8th 2017
America cannot stop 诺思 Korea from building long-range nuclear
missiles远程核导弹. But it can deter it from using them.
- THE definition of an intercontinental ballistic missile
(ICBM)洲际弹道导弹 is one that can fly at least 5,500km (3,420 miles).
The weapon that 诺思 Korea tested, with characteristic belligerence, on
the Fourth of July, had a range of perhaps 6,700km (see page21). So its
claim to have built an ICBM is technically correct.
2. That is not quite as alarming as it sounds. It allows Kim Jong Un,
North Korea’s dictator, to threaten Anchorage, Alaska, as well as
America’s bases on Guam and in Japan and South Korea. But Los Angeles
and NewYork are still out of reach. Moreover, North Korea has not yet
mastered the technology to protect a nuclear warhead as a missile
re-enters the atmosphere. And for the North to achieve much longer
ranges it will have to add a third stage to its two-stage missiles—a
further technological leap. Nonetheless, Mr Kim’s drive to develop a
nuclear tipped missile capable of striking America is clearly
advancing rapidly. At best, America may have a few years before
North Korea can rain destruction on its cities, as it so often
- It was not supposed to be this way. When Mr Kim boasted of being
close to launching an ICBM, on New Year’s Day, Donald Trump retorted:
“It won’t happen.” America tried to enlist China, North Korea’s main
trading partner, to persuade Mr Kim to desist. For a few months China
made encouraging noises about curbing the flow of goods across its
border with the North. But MrTrump’s growing friendship with Xi
Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, seems to have cooled (see page 27). Mr
Trump recently admitted that pressing China into service “has not worked
out”. What else can he try?
4. Despite lots of martial talk from Mr Trump, a pre-emptive strike
against North Korea is a terrifying option. It would risk setting off a
war on the Korean peninsula that could claim millions millions of lives.
The less incendiary step of trying to shoot down Mr Kim’s missiles
whenever he tests them would prevent the North from developing an ICBM.
But America may not yet have perfected the anti-missile capabilities it
- Mr Trump might resort to direct negotiations with North Korea—he once
said that he and Mr Kim could settle all their differences over a burger
at the White House. But it is hard to imagine that the North would
really abandon its missile program me, which it appears to view as its
one ironclad defense against a hostile world. Meanwhile, the
confidence-building step that the North demands of America—suspending
all military exercises with South Korea—should be a non-starter.
The exercises are legal whereas the missile-testing is not. Also North
Korea has a dire record of cheating on its commitments; suspension would
perturb America’s allies; and China, which hates displays of American
might on its borders, would have an incentive to keep Mr Kim as a
6. Sanctions do make life difficult for the North Korean regime. But the
only measure that might truly threaten it would be to cut its oil
supply—and China has already declined to do that. America could punish
more firms in China that abet trade with North Korea (secondary
sanctions, in the jargon). But the border trade is too fluid and diffuse
to halt the determined Mr Kim, who cares nothing for his people’s
It helps if people believe what you say
- For all of Mr Trump’s bluster, he has no good way of stopping North
Korea from developing an effective nuclear weapon. Deterrence and
containment remain the best (and possibly only) options to ensure that
Mr Kim is never tempted to use his horrifying arsenal. But if deterrence
is to be effective, America’s threats must be credible. So Mr Trump must
stop making promises he is not ready or able to honour—promises like
stopping North Korea from developing an ICBM.
洲际弹道导弹(intercontinental ballistic missile)