The Current

North Korean threat enters new phase following missile tests

Recent missile tests and revelations of the failed U.S. cyber war in countering North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have many nations asking, what’s next, as the threat enters a new phase.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) surrounded by soldiers of the Korean People's Army as he inspects the test launch of a surface-to-surface medium long-range ballistic missile Pukguksong-2 at an undisclosed location, Feb. 12, 2017. (AFP/Getty Images)

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Recent missile tests and revelations of the failed U.S. cyber war in countering North Korea's nuclear and missile programs have many nations asking: what's next?

On Feb. 28, the U.S. began deploying its advanced anti-missile defence system in South Korea following North Korea's test of four banned ballistic missiles, which state media said were practice for an attack on U.S. military bases in Japan.

While North Korea has been showing off their growing missile capabilities for a while, officials in the U.S., South Korea and Japan feel these recent tests are cause for concern.

U.S. President Donald Trump has even said the threat has entered a "new phase."

A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) long-range rocket sitting on a launch pad at Sohae Satellite Station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea, April 2012. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)
"This multiple launch just recently is worrisome because if you throw a whole bunch of missiles out at once, it makes shooting them down much more difficult. It's like a math problem with many variables," New York Times senior writer Bill Broad tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"They'd love to pulverize Washington, or more realistically, to be able to threaten to do that," he says.

Related: Trump inherits a secret cyberwar against North Korean missiles

Broad explains that if they were using an ICBM — an intercontinental ballistic missile - warheads are released into space and "courtesy of gravity, [warheads] then land on the target thousands of miles away."

"They'd love to be able to do threaten the United States with the ultimate weapon."

Broad, citing his colleague David Sanger, says that being seen as a threat, rather than starting an all-out war, is probably North Korea's immediate goal.

"It probably doesn't have to do so much with actually initiating a war but being able to threaten to do it, so that it can throw its weight around in East Asia and take steps that it wouldn't be confident of taking otherwise."

It's really challenging to know what is a test and what is the start of a war."- Melissa  Hannum , senior research associate at the  Middlebury  Institute for International Studies.

Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate in the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, says long-range tests could be much sooner. 

"I think that probably we'll see a test this year. They've shown us all the subcomponents of intercontinental ballistic missile already. They've shown us that they are probably getting ready to do a test," Hannum says.

"Kim Jong-un has made it known amongst the sort of high officials that this is something he wants to be done in 2017. I don't think that the initial test will be successful. It's very complicated to launch an ICBM but this type of testing is also very, very dangerous there."

"It's really challenging to know what is a test and what is the start of a war."

State-run television says rocket fell to sea after successful test 0:41

As for what the United States, South Korea and their allies should do, that remains a near impossible question with few good solutions, Hannum tells Tremonti.

"There are people in camps who say that diplomacy should be used first — and I am one of them for both pragmatic and peaceful reasons," she says.

And increasingly there are those who are calling for a military strike in North Korea. Neither of those options is palatable. No one wants to unite."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Sam Colbert and Samira Mohyeddin.