North Korea Going Ballistic
by PETER BROOKES
April 3, 2009
If you think reactions to President Obama's arrival on the world stage from the likes of the Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Venezuelan and even European leaders have been lukewarm at best, check out the North Koreans.
They're going ballistic -- literally.
Sometime in the next couple of days, Pyongyang is expected to launch a satellite into orbit.
The launch vehicle? A multistage Taepodong ballistic missile -- which, by the by, has the potential to hit the western United States.
For good measure, it's predicted they might loose a couple of salvos of short- and medium-range missiles during the same period, as well.
The obvious point of that is to (saber) rattle its South Korean and Japanese neighbors. (Naturally, those missiles put US forces in South Korea and Japan into harm's way, too.)
Of course, the North Koreans say the launch is just a harmless bid to put a satellite into orbit (following unsuccessful attempts in 1998 and 2006). We're supposed to believe that the purpose is benign -- for civilian communications or scientific monitoring, plus propping up the image of "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il, who suffered a serious stroke last year.
A successful launch would also raise the prestige of the isolated, Stalinist regime: Only nine nations have launched their own satellites into orbit, Iran the most recent.
But the launch defies two UN resolutions, passed in the wake of Pyongyang's 2006 nuclear-weapon test, that prohibit North Korean missile and atomic activity.
And the satellite may have a military purpose -- such as relaying secure communications or gathering intelligence on US and South Korean forces across the DMZ. (Remember, we're technically still at war.)
Moreover, a successful satellite shot would pique interest among potential customers, including Iran -- which is rumored to have reps in town for the launch. Syria could also be intrigued, considering the Pyongyang-Damascus nuclear ties exposed in recent years.
But, most serious analysts suspect that North Korea is actually testing an intercontinental ballistic missile under the cover of its "civilian" space program.
The ability to launch a payload such as a satellite into space is a key building block in the development of an ICBM capability -- that is, a big step toward building missiles that could reach out and touch us beyond Alaska and Hawaii.
Adding to the worries, US intelligence recently warned that North Korea may be making progress in developing a warhead suitable for mating with one of its many ballistic missiles.
The bottom line? It's an "I will not be ignored" moment: The Dear Leader is sending a shot across the bow of the Obama administration, which had blamed testy US ties with North Korea on bad Bush-era policies.
Indeed, the administration seems to be downplaying the upcoming missile shot as a done deal, threatening unspecified "consequences" for naughty North Korean behavior. It hasn't even indicated that it would put US missile defenses in Alaska and California on operational alert in advance of a launch (as George W. Bush did in 2006).
Team Obama's response is so restrained, in fact, it signals resignation and weakness in the eyes of some.
One thing's absolutely clear: Obama's notion that the world's troublemakers would naturally "change" course once he took office continues to crumble. North Korea is just the latest example.