Monday, June 19, 2006

Ill-Wind Blowing

Trouble coming, out of the Land of Morning Calm. It appears that the North Koreans, sometime today or tomorrow, are going to flight-test their Taep'o-dong-2 (TD-2) ICBM. This three-stage ballistic missile possibly has a range of up to 15,000 kilometers, putting much of North America within range, although the payload would be limited to a smaller warhead.

The missile is liquid-fueled, which diminishes its usefulness somewhat. Unlike a solid-fuel missile, which can essentially be plugged-in and fired, a liquid-fuel rocket requires a time consuming and dangerous fueling process, which may be detected by satellite observation.

Iran is interested in purchasing the TD-2, and has apparently cooperated in its development.

The Japanese Prime Minister today warned the North Koreans against proceeding with their test, stating that, in conjunction with the United States, it would take “severe action.” That is very strong language for the Japanese. The Japanese concern is quite understandable: it will be virtually impossible for the North Koreans to test-fire their missile without it passing -- and probably shedding one or more stages – over Japan.

The Australians and New Zealanders have also cautioned the North Koreans not to proceed.

The North Koreans are playing a very dangerous game: not so much with the US, which could render North Korea utterly uninhabitable before the NK’s could so much as fuel a single missile – but they should be very, very careful of the Japanese. Japan is one of North Korea’s few sources of foreign exchange, and North Korea has been perhaps the biggest beneficiary of a peaceful, post war Japan.

Japanese military developments show that the quiet Japan we have all become accustomed to since 1945 is slowly disappearing. If the North Koreans encourage Japan to proceed faster along the path to re-armament – they will probably be the biggest losers.
Also, Moscow and Bejing, however much they enjoy seeking Mr. Kim twist Uncle Sam’s tail, cannot be happy that their capitals are now in reach of a starving country with nukes, ruled by a famously spoiled child.

The Iranians role in this business will not pass without notice, either. Mr. Kim is giving President Bush and proponents of a harder line in Iran yet another rhetorical weapon in their struggle to prevent both North Korea and Iran from getting real weapons. The North Koreans and Iranians can test rockets, and talk about nukes and centrifuges all they like: but until they have deployable weapons, and the doctrine and training to use them, their bellicosity is just making President Bush’s job easier.

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