“North Korea stepped up its war rhetoric Thursday, saying its troops are ''fully ready'' for war with South Korea, just hours before a visit to Seoul by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The North's military accused South Korean President Lee Myung-bak of using ''nonexistent'' nuclear and missile threats as a pretext for an invasion and warned it was prepared for an ''all-out confrontation.'' The strident statement carried on state-run media comes amid reports that the North is preparing to test-fire a long-range missile and as Clinton heads to Seoul for talks Friday that are expected to focus on North Korea” (AP, 2009).
On May 5, 2009, “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 effort to prove it is edging toward the capability to shoot a nuclear warhead on a longer-range missile” (Choe and Sanger, 2009).
Despite earlier warnings from other countries, North Korea proceeded with its rocket launch. As earlier reported by the London Times, as North Korea made preparations for what it characterized as a “peaceful” satellite launch, Japan prepared its missile defense forces, which is Japan’s “nascent missile defense system - built in collaboration with the United States - to shoot down the ballistic missile” (Harrison, 2009). Tokyo warned that, "If it [the North Korean rocket] is capable of reaching Japan then it goes without saying that we will react," Japanese Defense minister Yasukazu Hamada has said. "If it will affect Japan it will be our target" (Harrison, 2009).
A critical controversy for many was whether Pyongyang intended to launch a ballistic missile or a satellite. Notwithstanding additional information, US intelligence sources appeared unable to verify whether Pyongyang’s announced rocket launch would be that of a ballistic missile or satellite. Problematic is that North Korea “placed a tarpaulin over the warhead” (Chosen, March 27, 2009). Although following Pyongyang’s announced intention to launch a rocket a South Korean government official said that a reconnaissance satellite was able to detect an uncovered upper part of the rocket that is installed on a launch pad in Musadan-ri, it was still impossible to ascertain with any certainty whether the rocket is a satellite or a warhead (Chosen, March 30, 2009).
An additional problem is that, “Intelligence agencies believe the first stage of the missile has a stronger thrust than originally believed, since it was made by combining five to six Rocket missile rockets into one.” Adding fodder to the problem, North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, unlike Iran, is not a signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), because of its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003. Then there is Pyongyang’s history of missile launches.
In June 2006, after a prolonged hiatus in six-party nuclear disarmament talks with Pyongyang, the US, Japan and South Korea are facing a new concern, Pyongyang’s accelerated preparations for testing a missile that has the potential to strike the United States, which is the Taepodong-2 long-range missile. What follows was the crisis involving North Korean and its July 5, 2006 launch, though failed after 42 seconds, of the Taepong-2 missile. Problematic is that a working version of the Taepong-2 missile could possibly reach the United States and other areas in the Asian region, such as Japan and South Korea, which are within range of Pyongyang’s missiles. On July 5, 2006, North Korea also fired six shorter-range missiles that dropped in the Sea of Japan. This is the second time thatl North Korea and its nuclear-weapons program has alarmed the world and threatened regional peace and security.
In the interim, and pending launch of the North Korean rocket, the South Korean top nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lak traveled to the United States and met with Stephen Bosworth, the special representative for North Korea policy, and Sung Kim, Washington's top envoy to the six-way talks, for the purpose of discussing North Korea's announced missile launch. It is also reported that during this period, Japan's chief nuclear negotiator Saiki Akitaka was also in Washington (Chose, March 30, 2009).
Moreover, before the announced rocket launch, Pyongyang had already threatened dire consequences, in the event that the international community imposes sanctions in response. The official Rodong Shinmun newspaper reported that, “once the rocket issue is ‘raised at the UN Security Council for discussion, the six-party nuclear talks will come to a complete rupture.’” Further, the official Rodong Shinmun newspaper warned that North Korea will "take a stronger measure." The potential problems that associate with the launch are many. “Prof. Nam Joo-hong of Kyonggi University speculated that means North Korea ‘could reverse its nuclear disablement process, while hinting it could conduct a second nuclear test.’ Arthur Brown, a former CIA officer for East Asia, agreed” (Chosen, March 30, 2009). There are other sources also hinting in this direction.
“The Chosun Shinbo, a North Korean mouthpiece published in Japan, last Thursday reiterated the first nuclear test in October 2006 was a 'self-defensive measure to respond to UNSC Resolution , which condemned a ‘routine military exercise’ of three months earlier, namely the test of a mid-range missile. ‘If a racket of sanctions is repeated in disregard of history, this could spark an extremely hard-line response from [North] Korea once again,’ the paper said. A South Korean government official speculated such articles are an ‘indirect message to permanent UNSC members China and Russia to reject discussion of the rocket launch’” (Chosen, March 30, 2009).
Then there is the response to the May 5 North Korean launch from the international community.
“The launching drew swift international condemnation and prompted the U.N. Security Council to convene an emergency meeting on Sunday in which the United States, Japan and South Korea vowed to penalize the North. . . “With this provocative act, North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint and further isolated itself from the community of nations,” President Obama said Sunday. South Korea vowed a “stern and resolute” response to the North’s “reckless act.” Prime Minister Taro Aso of Japan said called it “an extremely provocative act and one that Japan cannot let go unchallenged.” Britain, France and the EuropeanUnion presidency all criticized North Korea for raising tensions and urged it to return to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks. . . .” (Choe and Sanger, 2009).
NKorea steps up war rhetoric ahead of Clinton Trip, AP, February 19, 2009.
Warships Dispatched as N.Korea Rocket Launch Nears, The Chosun Ilbo, March 27, 2009.
Korea Threaten ‘Stronger Measure’, The Chosun Ilbo, March 30, 2009.
Choe Sang-hun and David E. Sanger, Defying World, North Koreans Launch Rocket, NY Times, April 5, 2009.
Richard Harrison, Editor, Asia Security Monitor, No. 231, April 4, 2009.
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