Another Cuban Missile Crisis?

A North Korean cargo ship passing through the Panama Canal was detained when it was suspected of drug trafficking, according to an article in France 24. Turns out there were no drugs on the ship. But there were various missile parts.

Officials in Panama were tipped off that something might be amiss when, as soon as the ship was stopped, the captain of the ship attempted suicide and the crew rioted. Officials searched the ship, and after unloading the shipment of sugar, they found what they believe are containers of missile parts.

Not a whole lot of details have come out about what these parts actually are. Are they spare pieces from a missile installation left in Cuba (which could result in another Cuban Missile Crisis)? Or are they parts being smuggled from Cuba to finish some missile project in North Korea? Right now, not a whole lot is clear. This piece of news has, so far, passed fairly quietly.

It’s hard to know how seriously to take North Korea’s regular threats. North Korean civil leaders—at least as recently as Kim Jong-il and continuing with his son—have made a habit of being not so civil, and they are famous for their playground antics and rhetorical chest-pounding. A recent and unexpected threat of impending nuclear war was followed up with a just-as-unexpected call for peace talks that barely followed a third display of North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling. We know that North Korea has been looking for any leverage they can get against their main enemy: which happens to be us. What we don’t know is whether their threats are of the real and imminent or merely imagined kind.

So this development in Cuba could prove portentous. Is it possible that all these months of planning, testing, and politicking have been the groundwork for another Cuban Missile Crisis? We don’t know yet. But I highly doubt that the current administration has the brass necessary to deal with that should it arise.