The Guardian view on North Korea's missiles: Trump and proliferation

The Guardian-3 months before

The story’s broader truth is twofold: that the risk of something going wrong grows as weapons proliferate, and that, despite the show business of his summits, the threat from Pyongyang has grown thanks to President Trump. At the weekend, North Korea presented its largest ever display of new weaponry at a military parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ party. It included an intercontinental ballistic missile described by o...e expert as a monster – possibly the world’s largest road-mobile ICBM, albeit one that is yet to be tested – and additional missile transporters.

military parade monster missile transporters This was “demonstrative, not provocative”: Kim Jong-un accompanied the hardware with a softer speech, without the threatening rhetoric of his new year address. Anti-US slogans seen in previous years appeared to have been removed. But the message was clearly aimed at Washington.

demonstrative, not provocative The North Korean leader offered an unusual – and tearful – apology for failing to live up to “the trust of all the people”, in passages reflecting his country’s dire economic straits. The impact of sanctions and widespread flooding, in a country where around two in five inhabitants are malnourished, has been punitive. But the final straw has been the halting of relief shipments and trade by a border closure imposed to prevent Covid-19 hitting a barely functioning health system. In the longer term, Pyongyang will need help.

widespread flooding Whether November brings us President Biden, as polls suggest, or President Trump again, it is unlikely to change North Korea’s calculus. It uses its weaponry to push itself up the agenda of incoming administrations: expect more testing next year. Mr Trump’s team has proved itself incapable of effective, constructive diplomacy. But Mr Biden will have an overflowing domestic inbox and Iran is more likely to be a foreign policy priority. Successive presidents have struggled to deal with Pyongyang, and it will be hard to launch another engagement bid immediately after the debacle of Mr Trump’s vanity diplomacy.

The broader pattern on proliferation is clear. Mr Trump has quit three arms control agreements. The US is spending $1.2tn to modernise its nuclear arsenal. A report published in September by two American thinktanks warns that the decline of US influence and its withdrawal from the international order, as well as the rise of authoritarian leaders, are fuelling proliferation. World nuclear arms spending last year rose to $73bn. A group of arms control experts has warned that the US is “blundering toward nuclear chaos with potentially disastrous consequences”.

broader pattern quit three arms control agreements report rose to $73bn warned Opinion Opinion North Korea Opinion Donald Trump Kim Jong-un Asia Pacific Joe Biden US elections 2020 US politics editorials Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger

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