I’m sure you’re all aware by now that Lil Kim fired another ICBM into the sea. There are good and bad aspects to this story. We’ll cover both. But before we get started, let’s get one thing straight. No, this is not the start of WWIII. If someone on your social media timeline is saying otherwise, slap them upside the head and tell them to chill. Barry’s not in charge anymore. We’ll be ok. Now let’s dissect what’s happening here: the good, bad and everything in between.
The missile Kim launched today (tomorrow morning in Korea time, technically) was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Those of you who have been following my recaps all year should know all about these bad boys. They’re the main reason North Korea is of immediate concern to us. Before ICBM’s, it was mostly their neighbors who had to worry about Rocket Man, Inc. Now, at least theoretically, the NK regime can reach out and touch pretty much anyone in the world. That sorta thing tends to gets people’s attention.
There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ missile launch by a cornered commie dictator, but today’s was a little worse than normal because it represents the worst kind of progress: advancements in the ICBM program. While exact details are still scant, Sec. Mattis says the latest missile flew “higher than previous ones,” which means it could have traveled farther than previous ones as well, had that been Kim’s aim. That means unless Señor SuperCuts has been holding out on us, he’s still putting lots of time and effort into research and development for his America-nuking operation.
The other bad news is that a source within the Japanese government told Reuters news agency that, based on a “radio signal they’d received,” another launch could be imminent. I would hesitate to latch onto that scoop, though. I’m actually a pretty good source for this, considering I did nothing but intercept “radio signals” from North Korea for a year to determine what they had up their sleeves. They often discuss upcoming military tests, exercises and even attacks, but much of it is for show. They know we’re listening. They also tend to be purposely vague so as to limit the amount of actionable intelligence their foes can attain. When real orders come down, they tend to be fast. There are exceptions, such as when we can spot launch preparations via satellite imagery (IMINT), but even those aren’t planned linearly, meaning they could make preparations and then do nothing until months later, just for the sake of keeping us on our heels. They’re annoying little bastards, but they’re not stupid. The only way to truly stay on guard with North Korea is to keep your finger on the trigger while absorbing all the information you can. It takes a healthy combination of warrior and nerd.
I call this “neutral” because it isn’t necessarily good or bad, just information that helps to explain the current situation. It’s also stuff that should be expected if you’re familiar with how Rocket Man operates.
The timing of today’s launch isn’t incidental. It comes on the heels of a two week Asian trip by PDT in which he didn’t hesitate to call out Lil Kim at every turn. PDT explicitly warned Kim “do not try us.” He may as well have been saying “I triple-dog dare you to fire something off! No balls! No balls!” Rocket Man learned from his dad and granddad that you must always project strength, especially toward the West. Remember, this is a country that raises its children —the ones with access to school, anyway— that America is the source of all their ills and that their destiny is to destroy us using Dear Leader’s wisdom and might.
The launch also comes on the heels of PDT’s addition of North Korea to the State Sponsors of Terror list. That move was more symbolic than anything, since it really didn’t allow us to levy any sort of penalties we’re not already capable of, but this launch was mostly symbolic as well. It’s tit-for-tat, basically.
And finally, Rocket Man has been dealing with a high-ranking Chinese envoy at his door telling him to knock it the hell off, as well as Chinese banks making it harder for him to do business. Simply put, he’s in the weakest position of any North Korean leader in quite some time, despite the progress that’s been made with the ICBM program. Kim is cornered and he has to let everyone know that he’s still alive and kicking, especially since he hasn’t launched anything in a while (a fact we’ll expound on in a moment).
The point here is that this launch, while inherently provocative, shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Right now Kim is being squeezed and, given the lack of activity from his missile program lately, many have been wondering if PDT finally got the best of him. The verdict is still very much out on who is getting the best of whom, but Kim has been made to look very weak lately. Not only that, but a US president has actually rubbed his nose in that weakness. It would actually be a miracle if the regime didn’t at least shoot something off.
Believe it or not, this is actually the most substantive section. As counterintuitive as it may sound, there’s actually more to be happy about with today’s launch than reasons to be depressed or worried. Allow me to explain.
As I explained above, Kim is in a tough spot right now. He’s got China applying more pressure than ever (a low bar to clear, but still significant), Russia beginning to turn on him and virtually the entire rest of the world going along with anti-North Korea sanctions, sans maybe Iran. This means Kim has a choice to make. He can either begin to play ball, i.e. voluntarily denuclearize, or escalate the conflict. You may be thinking, “but Trey, wasn’t today’s launch an escalation?”
See, a few months ago, PDT drew a clear red line, although he would never call it that. That line is right in front of Guam, meaning the U.S. or any of our territories. If you’ll recall, this is the area PDT was referring to in his now famous “fire and fury” remarks that came after Kim hinted he would send a missile their way. To quote PDT directly: “Let’s see what happens with Guam.”
Well, we did see what happened: nothing. Kim cancelled the launch and hasn’t pointed his toys their/our way since. Today was no exception. Today’s launch, like most of the others, fell into the sea just short of Japan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never good to have some half-wit commie dictator firing missiles near our allies, but the target was meaningful. The reason being, Kim has shown once again that he’s not suicidal. He may like to fire off rockets to look big and bad, but when the chips are down, he always reins it in so as not to cross that line. And he’s showing that restraint even with a literal world of pressure against him. That’s a big deal. Thus, this could hardly be considered an escalation from where we were. If anything, it could be considered more of the same.
But even that is a stretch.
See, before today, Kim’s last launch was September 15th. That means we’ve gone a good 3 months without Rocket Man flexing his might. Before that, he was launching missiles at a rate of 2 or 3 per month. So let’s put things in perspective here. Before today, the North Korean ICBM program had come to a screeching halt, at least in terms of testing. And now that it’s resumed, they’re not doing anything more provocative than they were before. Kim still pees a little when someone mentions the name “Guam” and launches have become so rare that when they happen it’s worldwide news.
Additionally, Kim’s focus on Japan as a target area for missile testing has prompted the Japanese to arm up and prepare to take him out themselves. And they’re putting Americans to work in the process! Hey, if you want weapons to destroy commies, you still can’t do better than the good ole U.S. of A.
South Korea has also grown a pair of their own, investing in missile defense (despite China’s objections) and shooting off some missiles off of their own today to remind Lil Kim that his neighbors to the South will immediately respond to anything he does. I don’t know about you, but the idea of Asians handling Asian problems is pretty damn appealing. Unfortunately, the existence of ICBM’s ensures that this will remain our problem as well, but having Japanese and South Korean fingers on triggers definitely helps the situation. Besides, there is doubt as to whether Kim can actually reach the mainland U.S. with a missile right now, but there is no doubt as to what he can do to his neighbors. He’s a much more immediate threat to them. Thank God our POTUS has enough common sense to use that to our advantage.
THE BIG PICTURE:
In terms of the nuclear Mexican standoff we find ourselves embroiled in with North Korea, things aren’t much different than before. They’ve demonstrated a little more range, but the bottom line remains the same. Kim continues to show that he’s more interested in projecting strength than actually going to war, which he could have done quite easily with a simple change in today’s missile trajectory.
That’s not to say any of this is good. Of course it’s not. At the end of the day, no responsible POTUS will allow someone like Kim Jong Un to develop a robust ICBM program. Kim will ultimately have to decide between his ICBM program and his life. The good news is, the overall picture is trending in our direction. The rate of testing has slowed considerably and the tests that are undertaken are kept away from our people.
Does that mean we’ll be able to avoid a military strike? It’s impossible to say. But it does mean that one may not be inevitable, which is something that I would have considered wishful thinking just a year ago. That being said, if our imagery and signals intelligence show a nuclear-tipped ICBM being brought into play, it won’t matter where the hell he shoots his rockets. We’re not going to allow it to stand.
But in the meantime, we have hope of stopping him from getting to that point. And that’s something we didn’t have before.
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