Weekly Columns

The North Korea Missile Launch

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Washington, April 7, 2009 | comments
Last weekend we saw North Korea attempt to flex their military muscles and try to gain the world’s attention when they launched a missile capable of reaching the West Coast of the United States. North Korea blatantly defied demands from Japan, South Korea and the United States not to go ahead with a planned launch of what Pyongyang claimed was an experimental communications satellite. According to tracking devices, no satellite was deployed and the Taepodong II long-range missile landed in the Pacific. Even though this is considered a failure on behalf of North Korea, their attempt to expand militarily is a threat on our national security.

When I was in the Army, I was stationed in South Korea. I can tell you firsthand that there is a lot of tension between North Korea, South Korea and the United States. The main source of that tension continues to be the North Korean government. This weekend’s act was just the latest in a series of events that warrant consequences from the U.S. and its allies.

It’s bad enough that North Korea is firing long-range missiles in an open attempt to flex its muscles, but this is a nation that has likely developed a number of nuclear devices that could be launched with these missiles. Furthermore, the leadership of North Korea is in doubt. Leader Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke last year, and there are serious questions about his physical abilities. While Kim Jong-il is no friend of the United States, there is a fear that his death would create a power vacuum – potentially filled by the North Korean military.

As a nation, North Korea is a brutal place to live. According to media reports, “North Korean defectors have testified to the existence of prison and detention camps with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 inmates (about 0.85% of the population), and have reported torture, starvation, rape, murder, medical experimentation, forced labor, and forced abortions.” It’s easy to see that North Korea is dangerous and unstable.

In reaction to the rocket launch by North Korea, President Obama announced a U.S. arms-control campaign aimed at dramatically reducing atomic weapons globally while still recognizing developing nations’ right to pursue nuclear power.

Additionally, in an attempt to regulate North Korea’s long term missile plan, an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council was held to discuss North Korea's rocket launch, but it ended without agreement. Unfortunately, this seems to be the pattern.

Fundamentally, I am concerned that we are trying to negotiate with a country that has no interest in playing by the rules. Every “agreement” we seem to negotiate only lasts until the North Korean regime sees an advantageous opportunity to break it.
One more unsettling problem is North Korea’s collaboration with Iran. Iranian missile experts reportedly aided the preparations of this latest long-range missile test, just as they were present for Pyongyang’s previous test on July 4, 2006. While our intelligence is still investigating this rocket launch by North Korea, I would not be surprised if Iran somehow had a part in this second attempt.
For more than a decade, North Korea and Iran may have worked side-by-side to develop their respective nuclear and missile programs. They likely have learned from each other in other ways, such as: how to manipulate discussions on their nuclear programs; avoid tough sanctions; and what tactics to use to stall and delay long enough to achieve their nefarious goals.

The United States cannot solve all the world’s problems, but the United Nations has proven to be largely ineffective in achieving a long-term solution to the North Korea problem. The President must develop a new strategy that puts teeth into the ramifications for North Korea’s indiscretions. Last weekend’s missile launch shows that time is of the essence.
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Tags: Defense