Can North Korea afford cost of weekly missile tests?

By Ai Jun Source:Global Times Published: 2017/4/19 0:13:40

"We'll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis," said North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol during an interview, the BBC reported Tuesday. It was considered as a fierce counterblow against the US.

Despite flexing its military muscles in Pyongyang's parade on Saturday, North Korea did not provoke Washington by conducting a nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test during the day. It could have become an opportunity to persuade the relevant sides to go back to the negotiating table. Yet the chance was jeopardized in the blink of an eye by the failed North Korean missile test Sunday and Han's latest remark.

How much money does Pyongyang need for weekly missile tests? How long can North Korea continue such deterrent activities?

On the question-and-answer website Quora, a netizen suggested that a Stinger man-portable surface to air missile, which can be carried and operated by a single operator, costs $38,000 each, while a LGM-118 Peacekeeper, a land-based ICBM, is priced at $70 million.

Setting extreme cases aside, the Economist once reported that a single medium- to long-range subsonic Tomahawk cruise missile costs roughly $1.5 million. If Pyongyang launches one Tomahawk every week, it has to spend at least $78 million within a year. However, this is only the manufacturing cost of the missiles. If taking daily maintenance costs, research and development expenditure as well as fuel into consideration, the figure is beyond imagining.

Such estimates are actually very conservative. According to CNN, North Korea's rocket launches cost $1.3 billion in 2012 alone. In the same year, the CIA World Factbook pointed out that the country's economy was worth only $40 billion.

Pyongyang has two major reasons to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. It is well aware that a weak country has no diplomacy to speak of. Moreover, it is worried about regime change and thus attempts to acquire a security commitment from the international community through this method.

However, developing nuclear and military technologies requires a large sum of money. Given North Korea's economy, it will likely be dragged down in the future arms race with Washington and Seoul.

Pyongyang's fiscal expenditure in developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is limited. Amid the tightening UN sanctions toward Pyongyang, the country's spending in this field will be inevitably reduced.

The only way North Korea can survive and become stronger is to develop its economy. Bluffing or provoking each other will not lead anywhere, except to make matters worse. The only choice for Pyongyang is to go back to the path of denuclearization.

It is hoped that Pyongyang doesn't squander its remaining strategic space.



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