Satellite Launch? Missile Test?
North Korea has conducted whatever it was going to conduct and we’re still not sure whether it was a satellite launch or a missile test:
SEOUL — North Korea defied the United States, its allies and a series of U.N. resolutions by launching a rocket on Sunday that it said propelled a satellite into space but that much of the world viewed as an unsuccessful effort to prove it is edging toward the capability to shoot a nuclear warhead on a longer-range missile.
The United States Northern Command issued a statement that North Korea’s Taepodong 2 missile flew over Japan, with its payload landing in the Pacific Ocean. “No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan,” the assessment said.
The North Koreans continue to claim a successful satellite launch but the South Koreans say that all three stages fell into the ocean. As of this writing NASA has not catalogued any new orbital object in its satellite database.
At this point it appears that the facts are something along the following lines. North Korea has conducted a test of their Taepodong-2 missile that was more successful than the previous test several years ago in which the vehicle failed to leave the launchpad. Here’s how the Union of Concerned Scientists characterized the TD-2:
David C. Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group in Cambridge, Mass., said that if successful, the North Korean rocket might have been able to lift a small satellite of 100 kilograms, of 220 pounds, into an orbit some 400 kilometers high. If used as a ballistic missile, he added, the rocket might have thrown a warhead of 1,000 kilograms to a distance of some 6,000 kilometers, far enough to hit parts of Alaska.
Western analysts agree that North Korea’s missile launching is a military endeavor, despite its payload of an experimental communications satellite and its cocoon of North Korean propaganda. Starting with Sputnik in 1957, most of the world’s intercontinental ballistic missiles began life as satellite launchers.
That’s troubling but it poses no real threat to the continental United States either by missile strike or by EMP weapon. Considering the intimacy of the relationship between the North Korean missile program and the Iranian missile program, that constitutes a significantly greater threat to the Europeans than it does to us.
President Obama has called for the UN Security Council to take action against North Korea:
PRAGUE — President Obama said that North Korea violated international rules when it tested a rocket that could be used for long-range missiles, and he called on the United Nations Security Council to take action.
“This provocation underscores the need for action, not just this afternoon at the Security Council but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons,” Mr. Obama said. “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.”
The United States Northern Command issued a statement that North Korea’s taepodong 2 missile flew over Japan, with its payload landing in the Pacific Ocean.
A special meeting of the UNSC is scheduled for today to discuss the matter. Realistically, I think there is no hope whatever for additional economic sanctions or other measures against North Korea. Veto-wielding China, North Korea’s primary patron, simply won’t allow it.
It will be interesting to see how words must mean something translates into action in the face of a UNSC that’s essentially powerless to act any farther with respect to North Korea.