North Korea missile
White House press secretary Jay Carney criticized the rogue state after reports of a failed missile launch surfaced. What was the country's explanation?The sight of a North Korean missile going into the air on Friday morning, local time—even if the launch was, as has been reported, ultimately a failure—leaves the United States with several questions, all of them unappealing. Long before North Korea put the missile on a launch pad, right around the time that the U.S. was trying to get it to accept biscuits and food aid in exchange for curbing its nuclear program, a very different deal received less attention than, perhaps, it should have. In December
, China agreed to invest about three billion dollars to develop North Korea’s northeastern free-trade zone as an export base. China would build an airport, a power plant, a railroad, and piers. In return, China would get the right to use the port for half a century.
It was only the latest indicator that China—North Korea’s largest source of food, fuel, arms, and industrial support—has been busy exploring investment opportunities in the country at the very moment that the rest of the world is trying to leverage Pyongyang’s economic distress to get the regime to end its nuclear ambitions.
Looking across East Asia this week, the contrast is striking. Newspapers in Japan and South Korea are unanimously alarmed at the prospect of a missile launch that North Korea insists is only intended to put a satellite into orbit. But in China, the state news service has been reporting that Hu Jintao has a different kind of message this week for North Korea: “Hu sent sincere good wishes for the cause of building a prosperous and strong country.” That was on the occasion of Hu Jintao congratulating the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, on his “election as WPK’s first secretary”—that is, election to head of the Workers’ Party of Korea. (“Election” is a word that appears less frequently in western coverage of North Korea.)
Why is China so consistently and thoroughly unresponsive to American demands for it to rein in North Korea? Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, of the International Crisis Group, puts it well: “China has less influence than we think, but more than it uses.” The Chinese leadership is, by all accounts, divided between wanting to ensure that the North Korean regime doesn’t collapse—which would create an opening for U.S. troops stationed in South Korea to move all the way to the Chinese border—and recognizing that the status quo is unsustainable. For now, the former view prevails, and China will do nothing to undermine North Korea’s stability—which, in this case, means fortifying the authority of a new, unproven leader by allowing him to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, the country’s late founder, Kim Il-sung.
(The connection between the two is not a subtle point. The North Korean press has made much of Kim Jong-un’s physical resemblance to his grandfather, and he has been happy to oblige with a fifties-style haircut, swept back and shaved over the ears, and a wardrobe of Mao-era suits of the sort China abandoned years ago.)
There are other questions. Was the longtime go-to North Korean diplomat, Kim Kye-gwan, who met U.S. officials in February, in the dark about the North Korean military’s plan for the launch? If so, what does that suggest about the power of civilian authority?
Or, perhaps, was it a technical mistake? Did North Korea simply not see the satellite launch as part of the deal it had made barring ballistic-missile tests? Victor Cha, a former Bush Administration security adviser now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Louisa Lim of NPR that it was a gross misunderstanding. “They just didn’t agree, and for some reason, both sides walked away believing they had an agreement. That might be a definition of ineptitude on both sides.”
What happens now? If precedent is a guide, North Korea may follow the rocket launch with an underground nuclear test, even if that brings further condemnation. At one point, Cha and others conducted a comparison of five major North Korean weapons standoffs since the nineteen-eighties. In each case, the relationship with the United States breaks down and it takes an average of five months to recover
There’s a very basic reason for that – even in such hard science areas as rocketry, their rise is based more in loyalty than ability. Additionally, with little to no access to the outside world (except perhaps Iran), they must discover, through trial and error, many of the things more advanced countries learned decades ago.
And, of course when results like what happened yesterday yield “rewards” like death or the gulag, the rush to fill those vacancies and attempt the next launch are probably not among the highest priorities of whatever NoKo would consider its “brightest and best” in the field.
North Korea is a tragic joke. Each time we’re led to believe they’ve developed something that threatens us all and they usually manage instead to embarrass themselves and to leave everyone questioning the hyperbole associated with the build up to their latest failed stunt. They remind me more of a reckless kid with a chemistry set than a serious international threat.
They are certainly a regional threat. Any country with a million man army has to be taken seriously, at least conventionally. But I think we can relax for the time being concerning ICBMs and nukes. All they’re capable of right now is producing a rather expensive fireworks show.
At the time, the succession was met with speculation and concern about what direction the new regime would take, and if it would adhere to the militant policies handed down through the generations.
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It hasn't taken long to find out that it has and it will, but now, after the 2010 attack against the South, it's a whole new ballgame.
That year the North rained down an artillery barrage on the South in November after allegedly sinking the South Korean ship the Cheonan in March.
The artillery attack was likely the last set of blows the South is prepared to receive standing down, and the sinking of the Cheonan resulted in South Korean ship captains being given permission to fire on the North at will.
That means if a single shot gets fired at the South Korean Navy there are no checks and balances to keep the scene from flaring up into a full-blown fight.
The launching of this missile sometime within the next few days has ratcheted regional tensions to a new high, and South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. have all said they're prepared to shoot the rocket down should it wander from its path.
If that happens, the North has already said they'll consider it an act of war and pledged "merciless punishment" upon the responsible country.
These Associated Press pictures take us inside the launch site, the command center, and the surrounding preparations for what could be the most watched event on the Korean peninsula in years.
The weapons displayed April 15 appear to be a mishmash of liquid-fuel and solid-fuel components that could never fly together. Undulating casings on the missiles suggest the metal is too thin to withstand flight. Each missile was slightly different from the others, even though all were supposedly the same make. They don't even fit the launchers they were carried on.
"There is no doubt that these missiles were mock-ups," Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, of Germany's Schmucker Technologie, wrote in a paper posted recently on the website Armscontrolwonk.com that listed those discrepancies. "It remains unknown if they were designed this way to confuse foreign analysts, or if the designers simply did some sloppy work."
The missiles, called KN-08s, were loaded onto the largest mobile launch vehicles North Korea has ever unveiled. Pyongyang gave them special prominence by presenting them at the end of the parade, which capped weeks of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the country's founding father, Kim Il Sung.
The unveiling created an international stir. The missiles appeared to be new, and designed for long-range attacks.That's a big concern because, along with developing nuclear weapons, North Korea has long been suspected of trying to field an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, capable of reaching the United States. Washington contends that North Korea's failed April 13 rocket launch was an attempt to test missile technology rather than the scientific mission Pyongyang claims.
But after poring over close-up photos of the missiles, Schiller and Schmucker, whose company has advised NATO on missile issues, argue the mock-ups indicate North Korea is a long way from having a credible ICBM.
"There is still no evidence that North Korea actually has a functional ICBM," they concluded, adding that the display was a "dog and pony show" and suggesting North Korea may not be making serious progress toward its nuclear-tipped ICBM dreams.
North Korea has a particularly bad track record with ICBM-style rockets. Its four launches since 1998 — three of which it claimed carried satellites — have all ended in failure.
North Korea also frequently overstates its military capabilities.
On Wednesday, one of its top military leaders, Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho, claimed his country is armed with powerful modern weapons capable of defeating the United States "at a single blow." North Korea made another unusual claim Monday, promising "special actions" that would reduce Seoul's government to ashes within minutes.Even so, the missiles displayed this month could foreshadow weapons that North Korea is still working on.
David Wright, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists who has written extensively about North Korea's missile program, said he believes the KN-08s could be "somewhat clumsy representations of a missile that is being developed."
Wright noted that the first signs the outside world got of North Korea's long-range Taepodong-2 missile -- upon which the recent failed rocket was based -- was from mock-ups seen in 1994, 12 years before it was actually tested on the launch pad.
"To understand whether there is a real missile development program in place, we are trying to understand whether the mock-ups make sense as the design for a real missile," he said. "It is not clear that it has a long enough range to make sense for North Korea to invest a lot of effort in."
Theodore Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former scientific adviser to the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, said the Taepodong-2 design remains the more real future threat -- though even that remains at least a decade away -- and the KN-08 is simply a smoke screen.
"I believe that these missiles are not only mock-ups, but they are very unlikely to be actual mock-ups of any missiles in design," he said. "Fabricating a missile like the KN-08 would require a gigantic indigenous technical effort. ... The only way North Korea could develop such a missile with its pitiful economy would be if someone gave it to them."
He noted that a comparable U.S. missile, the Minuteman III, required "decades of expertise in rocket motors, and vast sums of intellectual, technological and financial capital."Much attention, meanwhile, has been given to the 16-wheel mobile launchers that carried the missiles during the parade, which experts believe may have included a chassis built in China. That raises questions of whether China has violated U.N. sanctions against selling missile-related technology to Pyongyang.
Some missile experts say the launchers were designed to carry a larger missile than the 18-meter-long KN-08, and argue that North Korea would not have spent millions of dollars on them unless it has, or intends to have, a big missile to put on them.
But Wright said the launchers, like the missiles they carried, could also have been more for show than anything else.
"Given the international attention it has gotten from parading these missiles you could argue that the cost of buying the large trucks -- which add a lot of credibility to the images of the missiles -- was money well spent in terms of projecting an image of power," he said.