Don’t blink over North Korea

Updated 10:49 AM EDT, Fri June 24, 2016

Story highlights

North Korea claims to have conducted a successful test-firing of an intermediate-range missile

James "Spider" Marks: North Korea is marching toward joining the nuclear club

Editor’s Note: General James “Spider” Marks is a CNN national security analyst. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN) —  

North Korea continues to improve its missile and nuclear capabilities.

This week, the regime in Pyongyang conducted two more tests of the Musudan missile, which has an estimated range of 2,500 miles. According to South Korean officials, the first launch is estimated to have disintegrated less than 100 miles into its flight, while the second missile met all the parameters of a successful high trajectory flight of 250 miles, landing south and west of Honshu, Japan’s main island.

Gen. (Ret.) James 'Spider' Marks
Gen. (Ret.) James 'Spider' Marks

The world pays attention to North Korea, but it has demonstrated little ability to meter its ambitions to achieve a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Previous efforts have stalled the country’s development of both its nuclear capability and missile technology.

Yet in spite of rigorous protocols and international sanctions, when it comes to North Korea we are today in a far more dangerous place.

Since 2006, North Korea has conducted four successful nuclear tests, most recently in January of this year. North Korea is estimated to possess anywhere from 10 to 25 nuclear weapon “equivalents,” intelligence analyst speak for acknowledging North Korea as a nuclear power.

North Korea’s scientific community has yet to marry a warhead to a missile, but that is exactly why we see an increase in missile testing. Indeed, the country made its intentions to do so clear after the latest test.

Speaking at a news conference, Choe Sonhui, the General of the Department of U.S. Affairs of the North Korean Foreign Ministry, said at a news conference: “What we are doing is trying to cope with the current situation where the United States is trying to threaten the DPRK with nuclear weapons, so we are trying to strengthen our nuclear capabilities in order to cope with threats that are imposed on the DPRK.”

Additionally, the North claims to have launched a satellite into an extra atmospheric orbit. There’s no debate that North Korea’s satellite launch was a failure, but the regime is nothing if not persistent … and a wild card.

The confluence of interest among the United States, South Korea and Japan place missile defense and area denial at the top of their shared military readiness requirements for the region. In fact, the military cooperation among these three nations is unprecedented.

Diplomatically, there’s never been a sliver of daylight in the formation of this “alliance of shared risk.”

But military cooperation between Japan and South Korea has always been weighed down by historical baggage, prohibiting cooperation. No more. The U.S. role and physical presence on the peninsula are essential to regional security, and have been for over 60 years. Today, Japan and South Korea are finally viewing the threat from North Korea through the same lens of national interest.

The reality is that North Korea is marching toward joining the nuclear club. They want the recognition; they want the respect; they want the leverage that comes with being unpredictable. They’ve essentially achieved all three.

Our intelligence on the regime in Pyongyang is persistent, an “unblinking eye” of surveillance. We better not blink. We cannot afford to.

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