North Korea: Missiles and Geopolitical Positioning

Yoselina Guevara López
North Korean ballistic missile,November 2022

This Friday, November 18, North Korea successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that would be capable of reaching and hitting any part of U.S. territory. The weapon tested by Pyongyang, according to specialized agencies, is the Hwasong-17 developed by North Korea, which is equipped with two nuclear warheads, which reached a maximum altitude of 6,100 km and flew for 1,000 km before sinking in the East Sea, about 250 km off the coast of Japan. With this intercontinental missile, Pyongyang has launched a total of 30 missiles since the beginning of November; but the great novelty is that it is the first time that North Korea achieves really optimal results in the tests of these powerful weapons.

Missile warnings

There is no doubt that Pyongyang with these missiles is sending a warning especially to the United States; the Hwasong-17 test came just after the statement of North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, who lashed out at the recent trilateral meeting between South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden. At the meeting, the three leaders strongly condemned North Korea’s actions, and agreed to increase their security cooperation and strengthen deterrence against Pyongyang.

The message of Kim Jong-Un’s government through the missile tests was very clear, and is part of a dynamic of responses to the military provocations and countermeasures consolidated in recent months to actions considered hostile that have been carried out by South Korea and the United States, as in the case of the recent joint military maneuvers.

Positions on the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Although with these responses North Korea is strengthening its position in the region; geopolitically Pyongyang has regained a centrality, and a capacity to maneuver, that it seemed to have lost some time ago .The Russian special operation in Ukraine has strengthened the position of North Korea that can now count on the unconditional support of Russia, for being one of the countries in the world that has disassociated itself from hostilities towards Moscow.

On the contrary, South Korea has decided to side with the positions of its American, European and Western allies in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Seoul has condemned the Russian operation and discreetly supplies weapons to countries such as the United States and Poland which in turn equip Ukraine. But South Korea adroitly denies that it supplies arms directly to Ukraine; added to that, it has also adopted some of the Western sanctions against Russia. For Seoul, however, it remains too distant a conflict to elicit strong responses.

The geopolitical table in Asia

As for the sort of “tacit” and “informal alliance” between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, it is showing signs of strengthening, having been weakened in recent years by the disputes between South Korea and Japan. It will be important to see whether these three countries decide to act together, and what the reaction will be, in the event of a new escalation of provocations, for example with a nuclear test that North Korea has already indicated it is highly likely to carry out in the near future.

In this sense, the ongoing global competition between China and the United States allows North Korea, also because it is a country with nuclear weapons, to figure as one of the many fields of the geopolitical chessboard in which this confrontation is also taking place. Beijing, which has a complex relationship with Kim Jong-Un, has every interest in using North Korea, and its nuclear potential, as a means of putting pressure on Washington. For its part, Pyongyang is interested in consolidating its status as a nuclear power and continuing to position itself as a threat to the security of both the United States and its two major allies in the region, namely Japan and South Korea, in order to present itself to China as a valuable, albeit unpredictable, ally in the competition against Washington.

Yoselina Guevara López: social communicator, political analyst, columnist in different international media, whose work has been translated into English, Italian, Greek and Swedish. Winner of the Simón Bolívar 2022 National Journalism Award (Venezuela), special mention Opinion; Aníbal Nazoa 2021 National Journalism Award (Venezuela); I Comandante Feliciano 2022 Historical Memory Contest (El Salvador) Third place.