Tensions Mounting Over North Korean Launch
For the last several months tensions have been mounting over what the North Koreans have said is a satellite launch and South Korea, Japan, and the United States believe is the test of a long range missile. First, word appeared in the South Korean press that the launch was being prepared. Then the North Koreans declaimed that they would consider any interference with their alleged satellite launch an act of war. Then the Japanese announced that they would bring down an aberrant North Korean missile in their air space. Last week satellite photos confirmed that the vehicle was being assembled on the launch pad. A few days ago the United States deployed two missile interceptor ships off the coast of Japan. Now North Korea has reiterated its intention to wage war against Japan if Japan interferes with the launch:
March 31 (Bloomberg) — North Korea’s government vowed to wage war against Japan if Japanese defense forces try to shoot down a missile that the communist nation says will carry a communications satellite.
“Should Japan dare recklessly to intercept the DPRK’s satellite, its army will consider this as the start of Japan’s war of reinvasion more than six decades after the Second World War,” the official Korean Central News Agency said today in an e-mailed statement. North Korea is also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada ordered his forces on March 27 to shoot down any North Korean object entering his country’s airspace and deployed guided-missile units around Tokyo. Japan, along with the U.S., China, South Korea and Russia want to forestall North Korea’s plans to launch what the government in Pyongyang calls a “peaceful” satellite, and refocus on joint efforts to end its nuclear program.
North Korea accuses Japan of using the missile launch, scheduled to take place between April 4 and 8, as a pretext to build its own nuclear arsenal. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on March 29 called the launch “a mask” for development of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Whether satellite launch or missile test the event is likely to take place while President Obama is in Europe for the series of events happening there this week including the G-20 summit in London, the solemnities marking NATO’s 60th anniversary, a NATO summit, and so on. If President Obama doesn’t have a policy towards North Korea this would be a very good time to formulate one, as suggested in an editorial in the South Korean Chosun Ilbo:
As if it were catching the Obama administration off its guard, North Korea is seeking to up the ante by staging the so-called satellite launch, which is a ploy, according to Secretary Gates, to develop an inter-continental ballistic missile. With no significant leverage at its disposal, South Korea is simply sitting by with its eyes fixed on Washington.
This helplessness cannot continue indefinitely. Seoul and Washington need to hurry up and produce a set of basic principles and at least a rough blueprint of how they intend to deal with North Korea over next four years. If there is not enough time to do this at the Apr. 2 summit in London, they need to set up another meeting as soon as possible. If they fail to do this, there will be no end to North Korea’s antics.
The picture above from the Associate Press/Digital Globe clearly shows a three stage missile on the Musudan-ni launch pad.