Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July 4, Scrabble, and whales

You know the story: excuse me for not writing for a long time. I hope I can make up for that with a brief post on our missile-madness poster child: DPRK.

North Korea will likely fire short- or mid-range missiles off its east coast from which it has banned shipping, a senior South Korean government official said last week. South Korean government sources were quoted saying that the Norks are expected fire Scuds with a range of up to 500 kilometers or ground-to-ship missiles with a 160-km range into the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

Another rumor says that Kim Jong-il intends to turn the test launch into a strange July 4 congratulation by firing a long-range missile towards Hawaii. Japan's defense ministry believes that North Korea might now be planning to launch a two-stage or three-stage Taepodong-2 missile towards the U.S. state. With a range of 4,000-6,500 kilometers the missile would fall into the ocean before reaching Hawaii, which is located more than 7,000 kilometers from the Korean peninsula. However, besides killing a few fish or disturbing a stray whale, this would send a strong signal that the DPRK is trying to intensify the intimidation tactics and that it is going to continue to up the stakes in the standoff. The vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff is quoted by the LA Times that the West Coast of the United States may be vulnerable to such an attack within three years. However, North Korea is unlikely to be able to develop a nuclear warhead by then.

With all the attention paid to Pyongyang, Russia reminded the world that it wants to have its share of the limelight. North Korea is unlikely to fire a missile rocket in the direction of Russia, but if it does, the anti-missile defense system would destroy the missile in seconds, Russia's General Staff of the Armed Forces said. Thank you for mentioning that. One has to admit, that the comment made by President Obama was equally helpful: “I do want to give assurances to the American people that the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted in terms of what might happen,” Obama said in an interview.

Defense Secretary Gates has joined Obama on the Scrabble front. He ordered the deployment of a ground-based, mobile missile intercept system and radar system to Hawaii. North Korea reached new levels of absurdity by criticizing the U.S. for positioning missile defense systems, calling the deployment part of a plot to attack the regime and saying it would bolster its nuclear arsenal in retaliation.

While Obama and Gates work on calligraphy and the alphabet, other U.S. officials are downplaying any imminent threat of a North Korean missile strike. The U.S. intelligence community does not believe North Korea intends to launch a long-range missile in the near future, a U.S. intelligence official told CNN.

If the launch will not occur on July 4, another option for the launch is July 8, because the 15th anniversary of the former North Korean president Kim Il-Sung's death will fall on this day. The test launch could officially be interpreted as a tribute of Commander Kim’s tribute to his grandfather. Soon we will know more…

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

DPRK on speed

It is show time again, at least that’s what it seems. Because the world is still not totally convinced of the greatness of the Dear Leader and its always happy people, Pyongyang decided to fall back to an already established practice: to demonstrate its might. In addition to the nuclear test the Stalinist state also test-fired a barrage of missiles in the recent days.

Three missiles were fired last Monday, May 25, another two on the following day (Martin writes in his blog about a reversed order, referring to the South Korean Yonhap news agency). The latter included one ground-to-air missile and one ground-to-sea missile with a range of roughly 80 miles. For Pyongyang it was readying the sixth missile for launch at a base near its west coast.

The head of South Korea's National Intelligence Service yesterday told lawmakers in Seoul that North Korea could test-launch an ICBM in the aftermath of its latest nuclear test. This assumption was confirmed when spy satellites have spotted signs that North Korea may be preparing to transport another long-range missile to a test launch site. The Yonhap said the size of the missile was similar to the Taepodong-2 tested in April. The preparations are expected to take two weeks so that Pyongyang could be ready to conduct the launch by mid-June. Because Kim Jong-il has a favor for dramaturgy, Pyongyang might time its next missile test to coincide with U.S. President Barack Obama's scheduled June 16 meeting in Washington with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Another play in the repertory to be performed at the missile theater is the good old “Gesture of defiance if the United Nations imposes sanctions”.

The launch of the missile might also be attributed to strengthen the position of daddy’s new darling: son numero uno, actually he is number three. The youngest son of the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il has been appointed to the country's all-powerful National Defence Commission, a further sign that he is being groomed as his father's successor. Kim Jong Un, 26, already has a new title: Commander Kim. It goes without saying that a real commander must have a real missile. So much for the North Korean mindset.

In midst of this rising tensions, South Korea requested to buy different types of US SM-2 missiles to beef up its anti-air defenses. Seoul is not the only country to respond to the new situation; also Japan considers a more aggressive missile defense policy. Japanese lawmakers could consider first-strike capabilities as a way guarding against attacks from its antagonist, Kyodo News reported:

"If (the North) succeeds in nuclear miniaturization, its (nuclear-tipped) missiles would be able to hit mainland Japan," Nakatani said. "That would pose a grave and realistic threat to the security of our country. Therefore, we have no choice but to consider switching from the existing passive missile defense to an active missile defense where launch targets on enemy ground can be directly attacked."