The projectile launched the from Mupyong-ni arms plant in the country's north. A US navy official said it flew "in excess of 40 minutes" and travelled about 1,000 kilometres laterally before splashing down into the Sea of Japan, about 163 kilometres from Hokkaido, Japan's second-largest island.
South Korean President Moon Jae In and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened emergency security meetings shortly after the launch and Japan's Cabinet announced additional sanctions on the hermit kingdom.
Back on the peninsula, Mr Moon says more Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries would be deployed in South Korea. Two THAAD launchers are presently in operation, while four others are stored at a nearby US military base. The South Korean president also ordered consultations with Washington on ways to bolster deterrence against North Korea, including by conducting a combined ballistic missile exercise and by calling a UN Security Council meeting to discuss new sanctions. An emergency meeting will be held this week.
China has also asked South Korea and the US to respect its concerns and stop their development of the THAAD system. China is worried about the anti-ballistic missile shield not due to friendship with Pyongyang, but because the radar fans sweep in most of Manchuria. Beijing can live with periodic ELINT monitoring from US aircraft and surface vessels transiting international corridors, but a US-controlled ABM system on its northern doorstep? That's a bridge too far.
So where does this new test leave the international community? What sort of decisions will it need to make in the near future? And, most importantly, why will it make those decisions?
Intelligence agencies deliver assessments when they don't know something for sure. That's why they're called assessments. US agencies recently assessed that the North Koreans will have a nuclear-capable ICBM as early as next year. What they can't know is whether this is too soon or too late. Simply put, there is a lot of grey space where information should be. But that's the nature of intelligence. If the North Koreans are further along than intelligence suggests, then the threat is already here and action is required immediately. Then again, if action is taken and the programme is discovered to be behind assessment schedule, then the US will only appear as aggressors and warmongers.
Intelligence is not about giving leaders information to remove doubt. It is about supplying them with the most accurate data possible so that they can make the best decision, even in the teeth of doubt.
But it's not like we don't know something about North Korea. It is perhaps the most-watched place on earth and the most militarised - on both sides of the 38th parallel. North Korea is still technically at war with the South and is ruled by the third generation of a single family. However, it is believed the leader is not alone in defending his nation-state. Kim Jong Un is surrounded by a tenuous group of elites bound together in mutual concern for the status quo. Should that status quo change, those bonds may snap. But so far - at least for 70 years - they have stayed strong.
We can also assume the leaders are rational. Mr Kim's reasons for pursuing a nuclear weapon are clear. He watched the examples of Libya and Iraq (and perhaps Ukraine) as those countries gave up their weapons of mass destruction on good faith that they were playing by the rules. But the US still bombed and invaded Libya and Iraq, while Ukraine is no longer a coherant state due to Russian-influenced separatism in that country's east. Pyongyang knows that playing by the international community's rules isn't a safe bet. That's because, for Washington, it's not about the nukes, it's about The Project.
The Project is why Pyongyang should be a bellwether for the rest of the planet.
Washington's approach so far has been to gradually ratchet up the pressure on the East Asian regime by imposing ever-tighter sanctions and banking freezes. For many years, the US was the provider of 50% of the North's food aid, only to remove that aid within the last decade. The US also compels the surrounding countries to sanction and isolate the North. Even China has bent to Washington's demands to some extent, although, as with this entire scenario, it's difficult to tell whether Beijing is blocking supplies to and from North Korea or whether it uses Pyongyang as a diplomatic playing chip.
Whenever the Kim question comes up in the United Nations, Washington invariably gets its way because everyone except the belligerent Russian knows how the game is played. This shouldn't be surprising for anyone. The building astride Turtle Bay, New York is a Washingtonian tool for the cohesion of the international community - The Project.
This community of nations follows the US-designed version of democracy known as liberal progressive parliamentarianism. To this community and its ultimate US leader, any other form of democracy is bad, bad, bad. The wars of the last century weren't about morals or ethics, they were about a specific decision. Since democracy was agreed upon across all Western nation-states to be the default mode of governing in the Industrial Age, only one question remained: which version should be preeminent? It took from 1914-1989 to figure this question out.
It turns out, whichever nation owns the North American landmass will control the world's oceans, and thereby the world. You can't have international commerce without container ships steaming across oceans, and you can't have ships steaming if the seas aren't patrolled and guarded. That used to be the role of the British Navy, but today the US Navy guarantees safe sea passage. This is a mark of incredible imperial power. How did this happen?
During the Age of Revolution, the American version of democracy succeeded over the British, German, French and Russian (Soviet) versions. All of those versions were drawn from the Christian faith of respecting the value of the lowest peasant and rejecting the value of the aristocracy.
Democracy for the last 200 years has had next to nothing to do with Ancient Greece. It is a Christian idea of power relations through and through. For the democratist elite, emancipation from oppression was less important than the ability to control people under a new type of regime. All they needed to do was use the language of emancipation and stir up the populations. Democracy doesn't actually give people any power, that's the lie. It's only a useful tool for competing aristocracies to gain power over the other rival aristocracy.
The problem is, it has proven tough to transition between aristocratic rulers while the peasants still believe they have power. Various methods to dilute democracy and return to proper order-based aristocracy have been attempted - such as limiting the extent of civilian interaction with rule-making to a single vote every few years (elections) - but unfortunately for the victorious new elites, the people aren't shaking that "in control" feeling. The new progressive aristocracy is working on it (as am I, watch this space).
This transition would have been a lot easier if the human population was still hovering around 1-2 billion people. But when the Industrial Age took hold, some annoying inventions emerged (from the perspective of the elites) such as penicillin and fertiliser. These had the effect of ballooning human populations and changed the central governance question from: "how can the elite secure and maintain its power?" to "what should we do with all these people?"
Carrying on the Democratic lie was the only answer once the various post-Christian ideologies of democracy (Soviet Communism, American Communism and German and Italian Fascism) kept animating the crowds. The elite in all these systems was able to get ahead of these movements fairly quickly and try to direct the enormous flow of populism, but they could never cycle it back the chaos to a transition point and re-establish order under a new aristocracy. Simply put, the humans kept breeding.
This is important for understanding what is coming next for North Korea.
To the democratist elite in the West gathering up and directing the populist flow, the most important goal was to first neutralise the competing versions to create a single, global point of order.
American Communism (known as "state transcendentalism" or "progressivism") is inarguably the most successful modern branch of the mainline Protestant tradition. It happens to be pretty much the most powerful religion on earth today and for the last century, although it has mutated away most of its theism.
It was victorious in 1945 against the Fascist version of democracy. And in 1989 it defeated the Soviet Communist model of democracy. The rest of Europe then bent to Washington's military and diplomatic/educational might and harmonised themselves with Washington. The entire planet then aligned as well. People tend to recognise power when they see it: if you don't have the guns, you don't get to write the rules.
International commerce and business are based on a default assumption of the American model. International diplomacy operates on a default assumption of the American ideal. Global psychology-capture (broadcast and mainstream media) delivers the default assumption of democratist ideals and social goodness directly into each person's brain when their eyes and ears come in contact with a television or newspaper. This is all true regardless of culture, geography or language.
The second most important goal for democratist elites is to utilise their substantial tools to ensure that every country on the planet remains a country (the nation-state concept is still preferred, for now) and organise governance on the US-led conception of order. This means no monarchies, no theocracies, no patriarchies, no matriarchies and certainly no anarchies. The world, as Woodrow Wilson used to say, should be "made safe for democracy." In fact, this present structure is called "Wilsonian," after Old Woody himself.
In Wilsonian international relations, countries are not free to govern themselves as they wish. The progressive elites might say they appreciate the nation-state, but they do not respect Westphalia. Under the Treaty of Westphalia, signed in 1648, European sovereign entities could fight about whatever they wanted, but religion was removed from the list. In other words, trying to alter the governance and religious choices of another nation-state was frowned upon. How other countries decided to live and rule were their prerogatives. This was the default assumption from 1648 until 1914.
But in 2017, almost the entire planet has been captured by the concepts of the nation-state and the governance of a US "democratic" order. Yet there are a few outliers remaining: Russia, ISIS, Somaliland and the fun-loving North Korea. Let's quickly look at all four:
- Modern Russia is nowhere near the Soviet disaster of 30 years ago. It is a pretend-democracy on the US model and has decided to alter the default assumptions of its new masters - slightly. In the Westphalian concept, a person is considered a citizen of the nation-state in which she is born. Simple stuff, really. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin believes a person is a citizen based on the country-of-origin of the language spoken in their mother's kitchen. A subtle, but important, shift. And since there are plenty of Russian-speakers in Eastern Ukraine, Mr Putin thinks it justified to claim those people for greater Russia. I'm sure he thinks Russian-speakers in Germany, Thailand and the US are legitimate Russians as well - including the land owned by those people. As you can imagine, this is unacceptable for Washington. So Moscow is demonised and US forces are drawn up against it.
- Another is the Islamic State. In the Middle East, a branch of Salafist Islam absorbed the progressive narrative of revolutionary activism and created terror groups to undermine the old Arab aristocratic order - similar to what happened in the Western world. However, rather than being a Christian movement, these Salafists - called jihadists - operate within Islamic history. Christians see the world as a progressive line from the primitive to the Kingdom of God. To them, the best is yet to come as they usher in the utopia here on earth. But to Salafi Islamists, their understanding of time is that utopia was already built and the Golden Age was with Mohammad in the sixth century. Every action taken today is meant to drag the corrupt modern world back to those holy days. They wish to create a new Caliphate ruled by a Salafi clerical aristocracy controlling a sovereign entity that recognises only two types of people: Muslims and soon-to-be-Muslims. This is unacceptable for Washington because a Caliphate discards the governance located on a nation-state model. The bombs are already falling
- Somaliland is interesting. You won’t find it on any official map because it isn't recognised by the international community. It is an essentially invisible, illegally independent state occupying a contiguous landmass inside the legally independent state of Somalia in East Africa. It has its own leader, currency and justice system. It even has its own flag. But it cannot access the IMF, World Bank nor sit on the United Nations. While it is de-facto an independent country, it is not de-jure (legally) recognised internationally. It is independent in the sense that “in” means “not,” and “dependent” means “dependent.” Somaliland and the US are identically independent. Both are not controlled by a prevailing international community. However, Somaliland doesn't have a nuclear weapons programme, so the US can get away with ignoring it and ask the cartographers to avoid drawing it on their maps.
- Now we circle back around to North Korea. North Korea is not the inverse of revolution, it is the product of revolution – exported overland during the Age of Revolution from the West, through Moscow by the socialist activist and journalist John Reed. Korea was a successful and flourishing nation before the West’s ideas entered the peninsula. After a century of violence, largely through bizarre games that no one understands yet, we end up with an American puppet state in the South and a Communist prison state in the North. Revolution created North Korea, but the state has an obvious desire to evolve into something like the old Joseon Dynasty monarchy – the general process of recovering from revolution.
That concept of "outside" is important here. During the Cold War, Soviet comrades could at least look out from behind the Iron Curtain and see a different world. And a German hipster could avoid looking at the checkpoints in West Berlin precisely because they didn't want to be reminded of another world over the border. Within each of those democratist systems, the elites were trying to bring about a reality in which there is no outside, in which all countries defaulted to democracy. The question was: which version?
There might have been an outside back then, but today the entire world has been eaten by the single, universal ideal of post-Christianity called "progressivism." There is no outside. The planet is on its way to becoming one big steaming homogeneous mass of Same-Think. Sure, the internet cut into the power of the progressive's psychology-capture mechanism - the mainstream media - but the internet doesn't pose nearly as great a threat as a truly independent North Korean state in the heart of East Asia.
If North Korea is allowed to build a nuclear arsenal and mount it on robust ICBM re-entry vehicles with a range ring overlapping the Western seaboard of the continental United States, then Washington might be dissuaded from exporting its revolution to the hermit kingdom.
That's the play. This is why it is so important for Pyongyang to achieve nuclear capabilities. It wants to be left alone. It wants to recover from revolutionary craziness based on ideas it never invented. It desires only to return to monarchy. And it wants to be able to achieve this on its own terms. It knows the threat of a deliverable nuclear weapon is the only way to get this done. If Somaliland had a nuclear weapons programme, this would be its rationale as well. These people just want to organise their own governance structures.
The question for Washington is: how many other traditional cultures are waiting for a chance to rise again? And just how strong is Washington's psychological capture of those populations? The answer to both of these is: who knows? But Washington won't wait to find out.
If the North Koreans can build a nuclear weapon, might Japan decide this whole experiment with American-style democracy isn't working out and rush to their own nuclear weapon? And what about China? It's never been entirely clear why they still turn up to meetings wearing business suits. That isn't a traditional Chinese sartorial dress code. So how long will it take for Beijing to realise the present controller of the international system is a paper tiger?
All this means time is running out for the Americans to make a choice on North Korea - on every conceivable scale and metric.
Either they sound the war drums and convince the international community that North Korea is an existential threat and needs to be dealt with, or Washington risks its entire Project. The endgame is approaching on the Korean peninsula and although it might not look like it if you watch only the "politics" on the Beltway, the US is more than willing to create a new puppet state in its global progressive empire. After all, "democracies don't fight each other." No, they only wish to eat the world.
It seems two options remain: The international community can solve this problem by removing the Kims by force, or accept and support them in their stabilisation efforts towards a truly Korean regime.
Washington would have to change its definition of risk if it is to accept North Korea as a nuclear power. But this would come with unacceptable concessions for the US – namely, its troops would have to leave Pyongyang alone. And if that is what Washington wants, it would have done so already.
None of this would fighting talk be necessary if Washington just stopped exporting democratic revolution and accepted classical international law on the Westphalian model. But since no one but myself is proposing this, I can't help but conclude that America doesn't care about North Koreans at all. The world is divided between those who want to be left alone, and those who won't leave others alone.
So as North Korea grinds inexorably towards a nuclear-tipped ICBM, the US will build its case against the regime for war. And you can expect Pyongyang to be blamed for the whole thing.
Ahh, Democratic ethics...