Is Western Media Overreacting to N. Korea’s Communications Satellite Launch?

March 26th, 2009 - by admin

The Telegraph & & BBC & The Washington Post & Asia Times & Korea Times & Associated Press & – 2009-03-26 22:57:12

US Deploys Warships as North Korea
Prepares to Launch Missile

Peter Foster / The Telegraph

BEIJING (March 26, 2009) — The deployment comes as America, Japan and South Korea threaten North Korea with ‘serious consequences’ if it proceeds with plans to conduct the missile test in defiance of a 2006 UN resolution.

North Korea, which has informed international agencies of its plan to fire the missile between April 4 and 8, says the launch is a “satellite test” which it is entitled to make under international law.

Recent satellite imagery has shown that the North Korea has now assembled two stages of the three-stage Taepodong-2 missile on a launch pad in the country’s northeast. Experts estimate that missile could be ready to fire within four days.
Japan has threatened to shoot down the missile if it crosses over Japanese territory, a move which Pyongyang has already said it would consider an “act of war”.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has warned any launch would threaten to end the six-party talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme. The talks have been stalled since December in a dispute over how to verify its disarmament.

“This provocative action, in violation of the United Nations mandate, will not go unnoticed and there will be consequences,” she said while on a visit to Mexico, warning that the US would put the issue before the UN Security Council for additional sanctions.

It is unclear if China, Pyongyang’s only major ally which has held talks with senior figures from both North and South Korea in the last week, would support a US move to deepen sanctions.

North Korea also continues to hold two Korean-American journalists who it arrested over a week ago after they strayed across North Korea’s border with China while on a reporting assignment.

The US Navy spokesman said the two destroyers – the USS McCain and USS Chafee – equipped with Aegis technology capable of tracking and destroying missiles had left Sasebo port in southwestern Japan. “I would say we are ready for any contingencies,” he added.

The approach launch is typical of the brinkmanship of North Korean diplomacy, analysts say, however relations on the Korean Peninsular now said to be at their lowest ebb for a decade.

A successful satellite launch would be both a blow to South Korea, which hopes to launch its own satellite later this year, and a huge fillip for Kim Jong-il, the North’s ailing dictator who was reported to have a had a stroke last year.

“A successful launch, coupled with international recognition of its nuclear capabilities, would also help secure the survival of the regime,” added Koh Yu-hwan, Dongguk University professor of North Korea studies in Seoul.

Japan to ‘Destroy’ North Korea Rocket
BBC News

Note: A More Correct Headline Would Have Read:
Japan to ‘Destroy’ Any Debris from North Korea Rocket [EAW — Ed.]

(March 27, 2009) — Japan has announced it is deploying missile interceptors to destroy any parts of a North Korean rocket that might fall on its territory.

North Korea has said it will put a satellite into orbit next month. But South Korea, Japan and the US believe the launch will be a new test of the North Korean Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile. The US has said a rocket launch would be “provocative” and violate UN Security Council resolutions.

Japan’s Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada issued the orders to mobilise Japan’s missile defence shield after a meeting with Prime Minister Taro Aso and cabinet ministers.

“We will do our best to handle any flying object from North Korea in order to assure the Japanese people’s safety and security,” said Mr Hamada. “A satellite or a missile – we are displeased with anything that is going to fly over our land, and such an action must be stopped.”

It is the first time that constitutionally pacifist Japan has deployed the shield.

The trajectory issued by Pyongyang show the rocket will pass over Japan, with the first booster stage landing in the sea to the west, the second in the Pacific Ocean to the east, says the BBC’s Roland Buerk in Tokyo.

But the interception is only likely to be activated if the launch does not go as planned and debris appears to be falling towards Japan, says our correspondent.

Japan revised its Self-Defence Forces Law in 2005, legalising possible interceptions of ballistic missiles. But the country’s pacifist constitution does not allow it to intercept a missile if it is clearly heading elsewhere.

The Japanese government had previously warned it would try to shoot down any missile or debris that threatens to hit its territory. North Korea has said it would regard any rocket intercept as an act of war.


N. Korea Planning Missile Launch In Defiance of International Warnings
Blaine Harden / Washington Post

SEOUL, South Korea (March 26, 2009) — North Korea moved a long-range missile to a launchpad this week and plans to send it into space in early April in defiance of repeated international warnings.

While North Korea has been making missiles to intimidate its neighbors for nearly half a century, what makes this launch particularly worrying is the increasing possibility — as assessed by U.S. intelligence and some independent experts — that it has built or is attempting to build nuclear warheads small enough to fit atop its growing number of missiles.

North Korea “may be able to successfully mate a nuclear warhead to a ballistic missile,” Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said this month in testimony prepared for the Senate Armed Services Committee.

David Albright, a physicist and nuclear weapons expert who runs the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, has written that North Korea is “likely able to build a crude nuclear warhead” for its mid-range missiles that target Japan.

Experts agree that North Korea is probably years away from putting nuclear warheads on long-range missiles that could hit the United States.

“North Korea’s nuclear strategy is to keep everyone confused, keep everyone wondering,” Albright said.

The country’s founding dictator, the late Kim Il Sung, created a military academy 44 years ago to “nurture” missile builders, ordering them to make weapons that could strike Japan and “prevent” the United States from meddling on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim’s son and successor, Kim Jong Il, has continued to nurture the missile makers, who have built more than 200 Nodong missiles capable of hitting most of Japan.

The Kim dynasty’s commitment to missiles continues to rattle nerves, with Japan and South Korea repeatedly protesting as North Korea moves closer to the planned launch of its new long-range missile.

North Korea says it plans to put a communications satellite into orbit, but that claim is widely viewed as a pretext for testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Taepodong-2. The U.S. national intelligence director, Dennis Blair, told a Senate committee that a three-stage missile of this type, if it works, could strike the continental United States.

“Most of the world understands the game they’re playing,” Blair said, adding that North Korea “risks international opprobrium and hopefully worse” if the launch proceeds.

If the international community sanctions North Korea for the launch, Pyongyang threatened this week to abrogate an agreement with the United States and five other countries to abandon nuclear weapons in return for aid and other concessions. It has also threatened to go to war, if what it calls its peaceful research launch is shot down.

North Korea exploded a small nuclear device in 2006 and has since declared it has “weaponized” its entire plutonium stockpile, which it says totals 57 pounds — enough, experts say, to build four or five bombs. But it is another major technical step to miniaturize these bombs for missile delivery. Scientists and governments disagree about how far North Korea has gone toward this goal.

The governments of South Korea and Japan both say that North Korea has not succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear warheads.

But Japan’s Defense Ministry has concluded that North Korea may be getting close. “We cannot deny that North Korea will probably be able to do that in a short period of time,” said Atsuo Suzuki, director of the ministry’s defense intelligence division. And South Korea’s foreign minister, Yu Myung-hwan, told reporters that North Korea’s push to develop “long-range missile capability after a nuclear test is literally (making) weapons of mass destruction.”

Pentagon Tempted by North Korean Launch
Donald Kirk / Asia Times

NEW YORK (March 14, 2009) — Strategic thinkers in the United States military establishment see North Korea’s plan to put a satellite into orbit in early April as the perfect opportunity to show off the power of US counter-missile capability in the face of what they perceive as a rising threat of attack on the US west coast from thousands of kilometers away.

They want US forces in the western Pacific to be able to fire volleys of heat-seeking Tomahawk missiles in a display of the ability of the US to defend America’s western frontiers. The Tomahawks are poised to be fired off guided missile destroyers with AEGIS weapons systems equipped with radar to follow enemy missiles for more than 320 kilometers.

North Korea has thrown down what is seen as a challenge to US forces after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the US was ready to shoot down any missile before it reached American shores. North Korea has notified international agencies of its plan to fire a satellite-bearing missile between April 4 and April 8.

The eagerness in some quarters to shoot down the long-range North Korean Taepodong-2, the missile that would launch the North Korean satellite, conflicts with the determination to counter the North Korean threat with diplomacy, probably in the form of condemnation, including a call for sanctions, by the United Nations Security Council.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, indicated the likelihood of a UN debate by saying the missile launch would “threaten the peace and stability of the region”. He spoke after the International Maritime Organization in London said North Korea had sent word it would launch the missile between 2am and 7pm on of the five days from the fourth to the eighth of April.

The formal North Korean notification is viewed as a warning to the shipping industry that missile launch boosters could fall into the East Sea, aka the Sea of Japan, in that time frame.

To Pentagon planners, the image of counter-missile missiles firing away at the Taepodong-2 as it arcs over the northern Japanese island of Honshu on its way to putting a satellite into orbit, as the North Koreans insist is the purpose of the exercise, is compelling if not irresistible.

By shooting the missile down, defense experts note, the Pentagon would prove its capability in deterring any missile from reaching Hawaii, Alaska or the US west coast, all within range of the Taepodong-2. But the scenario of US forces shooting down a missile, intriguing though it may sound, is not going to happen for a couple of reasons.

The first is that US officials are well aware that shooting down the missile would have tremendous repercussions in the region, inflaming tensions and possibly inducing North Korea to a face-saving violent response that might well include the launching of shorter-range missiles that the North has been producing for years.

The second deterrent to a US attempt to shoot down a long-range North Korean missile is what would happen should the missile elude the American counter-missiles. So far, US warships have successfully fired two or three times on missiles in carefully orchestrated exercises – but never in an environment characterized by uncertainty as to the timing or course of the target.

As Art Brown, a former senior official with the Central Intelligence Agency, reminded Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, “All tests have been with the complete knowledge of the target’s course, timing and characteristics.” Thus “the chance of missing is very high” – an outcome that Brown observed would be “very embarrassing”.

The humiliation of having to acknowledge that US warships and the missiles they carry might not be able to deter a North Korean missile so easily would add immeasurably to the success of a mission that has already given huge propaganda dividends for North Korea in terms of international attention and concern.

Still, the image of missiles and counter-missiles flying over the Pacific is not as fanciful as one might imagine. If a real war were to break out, the US would have to perfect its counter-missile warfare techniques or risk a long-range missile with a nuclear-tipped warhead exploding on American soil.

All of which raises the specter of Star Wars – missiles targeting missiles, missiles targeting satellites or, more frightening, satellites targeting one another in battles many kilometers above the Earth’s surface with the debris of exploding satellites and missiles falling on innocent people in countries with no involvement on either side in the conflict.

No one really believes the Star Wars scenario is going to happen, at least in the lifetimes of those now on Earth. Think, though, of how much deadlier warfare has become since lines of troops charged one another with fixed bayonets in land wars over the past 200 to 300 years.

For that matter, let us remember that air wars, the spectacle of aircraft bombing distant targets and fighting one another, would have been unimaginable in the 19th century or even the early 20th century when the Wright brothers flew the first rudimentary aircraft.

Nor would our ancestors have imagined that scientists and engineers would create nuclear weapons capable of wiping out tens of thousands of people in a single blast. The devastation of the only two atomic bombs ever dropped in warfare, over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, was not nearly as horrific as that of nuclear warheads so advanced that they are able to wipe out millions of people in entire metropolitan areas.

It is the fear of this kind of mass killing that impels nations to agree on the need for nuclear non-proliferation. The mere possession of nuclear warheads, though, is a point of national pride. Just think of the crowds that burst out cheering in India and Pakistan with the news of the first nuclear blasts in each of those countries. And think of North Korea’s pride, at least in the rhetoric of broadcasts and editorials, when Pyongyang conducted its one and only nuclear test on October 9, 2006.

It is a fact that warring nations find it very difficult to resist using every weapon in their arsenals. US military strategists pressed for the use of nuclear weapons after the Chinese entered the Korean War in late 1950 and pressed again to use them to halt the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.

Historians look back on these conflicts as “limited wars” in which political leaders decided against the use of nukes, but the possibility remains for a wider war in Northeast Asia.

Given that threat, US war hawks believe that US forces in the western Pacific should take up the challenge of a North Korean missile launch and show off their skills in tracking and shooting it down. They might miss a few times, but eventually they should prove their effectiveness.

Without proof of an effective deterrent, they say, there’s no telling how far the North Koreans are likely to go, first in developing the long-range Taepodong-2 and, second, in exporting it elsewhere. Other countries in the region, notably Japan and Taiwan, may figure they too need such a missile to deliver warheads, though as of now neither possesses nuclear weapons.

As North Korea’s missiles represent a significant step in the escalation of tensions, the argument goes that the US, defending its own borders and also protecting its allies in the region, will have to show the sophistication of its weaponry in action. Only then, according to this logic, can anyone be sure the northeast Asian powder keg will not explode into a wider war that could engulf the region.

Journalist Donald Kirk has been covering Korea – and the confrontation of forces in Northeast Asia – for more than 30 years.

Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved.

Pentagon Tempted by North Korean Launch
Donald Kirk / Asia Times

NEW YORK (March 14, 2009) — Strategic thinkers in the United States military establishment see North Korea’s plan to put a satellite into orbit in early April as the perfect opportunity to show off the power of US counter-missile capability in the face of what they perceive as a rising threat of attack on the US west coast from thousands of kilometers away.

They want US forces in the western Pacific to be able to fire volleys of heat-seeking Tomahawk missiles in a display of the ability of the US to defend America’s western frontiers. The Tomahawks are poised to be fired off guided missile destroyers with AEGIS weapons systems equipped with radar to follow enemy missiles for more than 320 kilometers.

North Korea has thrown down what is seen as a challenge to US.

‘North Korea to Launch Rocket Into Space’
Korea Times

(March 11, 2009) — The chief US intelligence official said Tuesday that he believes that North Korea is about to launch a rocket into space as North Koreans insisted, Yonhap News Agency reported.

The remark by National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair is the first by any US official amid conflicting reports about the nature of the rocket Pyongyang is threatening to launch.

US officials have said that the North’s claim to shoot a communications satellite into space is a cover to test a ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland US. “It is a space-launch vehicle that North Korea launches,” Blair told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

“The technology is indistinguishable from intercontinental ballistic missile, and if a three-stage, space-launch vehicle works, then that could reach not only Alaska, Hawaii, but also part of the, part of what the Hawaiians call ‘the Mainland,’ and what the Alaskans call ‘the Lower 48.'”

He said he “tended to believe that the North Koreans announced that they were going to do a space launch, and I believe that that’s what they intend. I could be wrong, but that would be my estimate.” North Korea has recently said it will launch a communications satellite as part of its space development program.

The US and its allies have warned that any launch of a satellite or missile will bring sanctions under a United Nations resolution banning any ballistic missile activity, although China and Russia have not been clear on whether they will join such a move.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Maples also told the hearing that after a failed July 2006 test launch, “North Korea has continued development of the Taepodong 2, which could be used for space launch or as an ICBM,” noting that North Korea “announced in late February they intend to launch a communications satellite, Kwangmyongsong-2.”

North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile in 2006 is widely believed to be a failure due to its flight time of less than one minute, but its previous version flew over Japan and fell into the Pacific.

Military Ready to Shoot Down North Korean Missile
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (March 19, 2009) — Two senior US commanders said Thursday that the military is ready if called upon to shoot down North Korea’s planned rocket launch next month.

The top US commander in the Pacific, Adm. Timothy Keating, told senators at a hearing that there was a “high probability” that the United States could knock down a North Korean missile. Gen. Walter Sharp, the US commander in South Korea, said the threat “is real.”

The comments come as North Korea reportedly prepares for what many believe will be a long-range missile test in early April. North Korea says it will launch a communications satellite, and defends the launch by saying other countries have been pursuing peaceful space programs.

Keating said the United States is getting “reasonable intelligence” reports that give a close look at North Korea’s activities. “We’ll be prepared to respond,” he said, adding that “the United States has the capability” to shoot down any missile.

Sharp said any launch would be a “very clear” violation of a UN Security Council resolution. “The threat,” he said, “is real, and it is felt in South Korea.” The US has some 28,500 military personnel in South Korea. “We call on North Korea not to act in this provocative manner,” Sharp said.

In his testimony, Sharp said North Korea continues to build missiles of “increasing range, lethality and accuracy” for sale in Syria and Iran and elsewhere and for its own forces. The United States, he said, “cannot afford to overlook” the threat those missiles pose to Asia and the world.

Sharp said North Korea is struggling with attempts to balance increased contact with the outside world and the risks such contact poses to “regime control.” That, Sharp said, “raises questions about the long-term viability of an increasingly stressed North Korean regime.” Sharp also said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il “is in charge. Every major decision is coming directly from him.”

Kim, 67, reportedly suffered a stroke in August. North Korea denies he was ill.

© Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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