NK Missile Threat


On a day when a major US television network’s headline is ‘North Korea Ready To Launch?’ a less urgent but still apocalyptic vision of the times was also launched from Pyongyang’s State news agency.

In its inimitable style, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) took a very deep breath and announced:

The army and people of the DPRK will always follow with a high degree of revolutionary vigilance the moves of the United States and its followers against the DPRK which are inching closer to the line of danger as the days go by and decisively react against the reckless provocations of the aggressors with strong measures for self-defense.

So now you know.

Yet the matter under discussion by the news agency is not the alleged missile or perhaps, alleged satellite rocket allegedly about to be launched, and which could allegedly reach the USA and thus allegedly become what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described as a ‘very serious matter and, indeed, a provocative act.’ No, what causes grave concern at the people’s news agency is: RIMPAC-2006.

Though hardly reported in the corporate media, this is the US-led, large joint military exercise which began on 25 June ‘the day the US started the Korean War in the last century,’ says the Pyongyang agency and will end on 29 July. According to Pentagon publicity, RIMPAC, or the Pacific Rim maritime exercise of 2006 is ‘Wargames on a global scale’ and takes place off Hawaii with nations it lists alphabetically: Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, Republic of Korea, UK, and USA.

The Pentagon gives the opening date one day later: 26 June. (The Korean War did begin on 25 June, 1950, but nobody other than North Korea accuses the US of beginning it although arguments continue over who fired first, North or South Korea.)

The KCNA further accuses the US of ‘pushing the situation to the brink of war,’ but omits any mention of the putative launch of its long-range Taepodong-2 rocket. It also refrains from mentioning Valiant Shield, another huge ocean exercise, officially ‘the largest in recent history,’ that involved 20 US ships and 300 aircraft off Guam from 19-23 June.

So much foreign military activity continues in North Korea’s part of the world Washington is sending more troops and ships to the area that it certainly looks threatening in Pyongyang. But the West’s hysterical headlines are equally selective. The two exercises receive hardly a reference, whereas the supposed Taepodong launch was first publicised in mid-May and has been in the headlines for two weeks.

Kim Jong-Il

The discrepancy goes further. If reading only the Western corporate media, one needs to be very determined to discover that the object spotted by US satellites at the alleged launch site, Musudan-Ri in North Hamgyong province, North Korea, may not be an ‘intercontinental ballistic missile’ in the military sense at all. It could be just another attempt by the reclusive neo-Confucian-communist country to put a satellite into space.

Almost alone in mentioning this is maverick American military analyst and author William Arkin, who is now contributing to washingtonpost.com. He reminds us that in 1998 when Pyongyang fired a Taepodong-1 over Japan to international Cold War-style uproar, it turned out to be a failed attempt to put North Korea into orbit. The small third-stage rocket failed and the satellite was destroyed.

Arkin’s reference is a March 2006 report from the National Air and Space Intelligence Center entitled ‘Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat,’ obtained by Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.

How does this sit with the declaration of Japan’s aggressive Foreign Minister, Taro Aso, that even if a piece of the missile fell on his sacred islands, it would be ‘regarded as an attack.’ Is that not a frequent risk when a country fires something into space? Once a chunk of large Soviet space material landed on Canada, but Ottawa did not talk of war.

Then on 24 June, three Democrats, former Vice President Walter Mondale, former Defence Secretary William Perry, and former Assistant Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, urge a pre-emptive strike on Musudan-Ri. It took the White House’s chief hawk, Vice President Dick Cheney, to cool that notion.

Meanwhile, the North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung’s alleged WMD seems extraordinarily prone to the weather. The US media has named succeeding days for a launch but poor weather intervenes. Then the alleged liquid fuel must be re-loaded, but nobody knows if the satellite-tracked ‘fuel trucks’ contain the real stuff.

It’s taken North Korea eight years to develop a long-range rocket to supersede the one that failed in 1998. Placing on top of that a miniaturised nuclear WMD would take another 10 years, say scientists not in thrall to Washington and its allies. So what’s the fuss all about?

Could it be that the bad, or just mad, King Kim is successfully indulging his eccentricity in a preposterous PR lark to demonstrate the power he can wield, despite his nation’s technological shortcomings? Is he trying to show Washington he can hit back, metaphorically at least, against President Bush’s hardline recent tactics against Pyongyang?

Kim’s priority is propaganda, and as former Australian intelligence analyst Robyn Lim, now a professor at Nanzan University, Japan, commented: ‘The Dear Leader likes poker and he’s pretty good at it.’

Kim may fail, in every respect, but he may yet make a fool of his opponent propagandists.

Even so, if a big, fat Taepodong-2 should happen to arch across our celestial vault by the time you read this, here’s a guarantee: You will remain unscratched.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.