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Progress boosts the profile of North Korea's new dictator, but draws international criticism

North Korea, a nation titled by former President George W. Bush as part of "The Axis of Evil", shook the international political sphere Wednesday when it appeared to successfully launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.

I. Kim Jung-un is Boosted by Surprise Success

The Asian nation recently saw power pass from the late dictator Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jung-un, 28 (or 29, according to some sources).  The last two decades have taken their toll on Kim Jung-un's isolated kingdom, with a famine in the 90s wiping out an estimated 10 percent of the population, and amidst ongoing struggles with poverty.  A third of North Koreans are estimated to be malnourished, at present.

In short, the nation's young leader has grown desperate for successes to continue his campaign to put a positive spin on the country's direction and quell unrest.

And he got one on Wednesday.  

After a delay due to unspecified launch issues, South Korean and Japanese officials detected a rocket launch just before 10 a.m., which flew out over the Pacific.  Later this morning came word from The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) who said that the missile "deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit."

NK rocket laucn
The launch was North Korea's first successful trip into orbit. [Image Source: Reuters]

North Korean state television station KCNA took to the air in a festive announcement, with its announcer garbed in colorful traditional garb and with propogandist tunes piping in the background.  The announcer said, according to Reuters, "The satellite has entered the planned orbit.  Chosun (Korea) does what it says."

"At a time when great yearnings and reverence for Kim Jong-il pervade the whole country, its scientists and technicians brilliantly carried out his behests to launch a scientific and technological satellite in 2012, the year marking the 100th birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sun."

The confirmation from NORAD (a joint defense effort of the U.S. and Canada) is the first time the U.S. has confirm North Korea's bold claims of successful test launches.  North Korea has seen a string of prior launches end in fiery failures.  For example, during an April launch while North Korea boasted of great success, NORAD and Asian ally states believe that missile crashed only 2 minutes after launch.

II. White House Condemns Launch

The launch brought condemnation from the U.S. and many of its allies.  U.S. officials called it "highly provocative" and suggested the launch inched the hostile nation closer to intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities, which could allow the nation to strike targets in the mainland U.S.  

The White House in its statement comments, "The international community must work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions have consequences."

Japan has already filed a complaint with the U.N. requesting a special U.N. Security Council meeting.  However, the possibility of furth sanctions against North Korea is unlikely, as China -- a key ally of North Korea -- is expected to block any such move.

North Korea defended the launch, saying it merely launched a weather satellite into orbit, and calling the effort a "peaceful project".  KCNA comments, "The attempt to see our satellite launch as a long-range missile launch for military purposes comes from hostile perception that tries to designate us a cause for security tension."

III. Missile Defense Systems Could Block North Korean Nukes

Currently, North Korea is estimated to have enough plutonium to potentially build half a dozen nuclear bombs.  However, technologically it is estimated to be at least several years away from being able to create a functional warhead, which it has expressed a desire to do.

But the nation has received a boost from Middle Eastern ally Iran -- another member of the "Axis of Evil" and persistent thorn in America's side.  U.S. intelligence tracked missile shipments travelling from Iran to North Korea over the last year; it is believed that much of the missile was constructed in the increasingly high-tech Middle Eastern nation.

Iran has denied helping North Korea, but according to intelligence officials Iranian observers were spotted on the ground in the Asian nation, taking notes on the launch.

The Middle Eastern nation has been regularly in the news, after it was also accused of funneling rockets to Islamist militants in the recent conflict between Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Israel.  In that conflict the Israel Defense Forces are estimated to have shot down between 80 and 90 percent of dangerous hostile rockets using their high-tech "Iron Dome" missile interceptor system.

Japan and South Korea have similar missile interceptors systems -- Patriot-missile based systems co-developed with the U.S. and partially deployed -- to ward off potential threats from China or, particularly, North Korea.  However, they declined to fire test those systems on the North Korean missile, after China issued a warning advising against counter-measures.

Patriot interceptor
A member of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces is seen running to PATRIOT Interceptor Missile battery on Wednesday.  Japan and U.S. declined to intercept the North Korean rocket after being warned by China. [Image Source: Reuters]

Nonetheless, in months to come expect the U.S. and its allies to focus on establishing a strong countermeasures perimeter capable of shooting down North Korean nuclear warheads, should it try to launch them in future conflcts.

Sources: Reuters, The White House

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RE: Priorities
By ClownPuncher on 12/12/2012 3:43:59 PM , Rating: 5
The same US intelligence that denied flying UAV over Iran, and denied the capture of one such craft? The same US intelligence that sold chemical and conventional weapons to a belligerent nation in the 1980's?

No, I'd say it's impossible to think they might be making something up.

RE: Priorities
By JasonMick on 12/12/2012 4:50:04 PM , Rating: 1
No, I'd say it's impossible to think they might be making something up.
Sure they might.

But you have to consider just because a nation lies when it's interest to lie doesn't mean it would also lie when it's interest to tell the truth.

In this case the facts seem to indicate that it would be favorable for Iran to do what U.S. officials are alleging it did, so that makes it more believable, to an extent, regardless of your level of trust in the source.

From my perspective the U.S. military will often say what is most advantageous to itself from a national security perspective (or its own myopic view of what makes it secure at times).

I am not basing my statement on the U.S. military's, which is virtually impossible to prove, and certainly could be fairly be called suspect.

Rather I'm basing it on the fact that Iran has very active missile development programs and has a well documented history of testing missile tech in other poorer nations.

If anything I'm complementing Iran -- if they indeed did that. It is an unethical strategy, but a clever/rewarding one.

As with the recent Gaza Strip conflict, if the Iranians were truly involved, they would pocket much of the gains (engineering experience, payments from North Korea, good will for not doing the test in their own backyard), while their poor ally would be left out to dry.

In that regard if I am correct, Iran, for all its rhetoric, can be much like the U.S. at its worst -- exploitative for its own nationalist gains.

RE: Priorities
By ClownPuncher on 12/12/2012 5:36:43 PM , Rating: 3
Favorable or no, Iran isn't the first country that pops into mind when I think, "Who could be helping the North Koreans?".

RE: Priorities
By JasonMick on 12/12/2012 6:06:54 PM , Rating: 3
Favorable or no, Iran isn't the first country that pops into mind when I think, "Who could be helping the North Koreans?".
Ah you're suggesting it was China?

True, they certainly could have played a role. But they arguably have less to gain and more to lose by arming NK with ballistic missiles and encouraging them along a path of nuclear development.

Remember NK is a long way from Iran, but right next door to China. If NK did something stunningly stupid at a future date, it would not devastate Iran, but it could have serious affects on China.

Also there's much more American presence in China, so smuggling parts from China to NK would be much tougher to do unobserved that smuggling parts from Iran to NK.

Again this is highly speculative, I would just say that direct Chinese involvement/supply of missile parts/engineering expertise seems less likely given the situation Although I should note that China, Iran, and North Korea are all close allies -- Iran sells most of its oil to China and enjoys a close friendship with China -- so some Chinese involvement is almost certain.

RE: Priorities
By ClownPuncher on 12/12/2012 7:14:58 PM , Rating: 3
Russia. Iran may have a hand in the pot, but I'm suggesting that Iran could not do this themselves without an OK from Russia at some level.

RE: Priorities
By ritualm on 12/12/2012 6:33:54 PM , Rating: 3
There is one persistent theme throughout the Cold War: you never directly fight your enemy, instead you use proxies of convenience. Heck, USA once used OBL and its factions as a proxy against Soviet-controlled Afghanistan. In this sense Iran is merely following the status quo.

As for "why Iran and not China?" You should realize that even Beijing is suspicious of what's really going on at Pyongyang. China might be one of the very few allies North Korea has, but the Chinese are not dumb. Meanwhile, Iran pretty much does not care if NK ends up destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region with its Iranian-enhanced weapons programs.

RE: Priorities
By Bad-Karma on 12/13/2012 1:41:27 AM , Rating: 2
Mick , Here is some ammo for you, the Iranians and North Koreans have arms trading history going quite a ways back

They were trading during the Iran-Iraq war. But had relations even before that.

RE: Priorities
By ClownPuncher on 12/13/2012 11:58:12 AM , Rating: 2
... you must have also read that N Korea was acting as a proxy for China and Russia, right?

RE: Priorities
By Bad-Karma on 12/13/2012 1:02:11 PM , Rating: 2
They've been on good terms with mutual interests for quite sometime. They continue to do a lot of technology sharing and weapon systems upgrades.

RE: Priorities
By ClownPuncher on 12/13/2012 1:24:31 PM , Rating: 2
Enjoy your puppet show.

RE: Priorities
By dark matter on 12/17/2012 3:35:33 AM , Rating: 1
What you're saying is sometimes a liar is telling the truth.

Fab, that's a great argument.

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