North Korea is about to test a long range Taepodong-2 missile that could hit targets in the United States, Richard Lloyd Parry reports for The Times.
The Yonhap News Agency in Seoul quoted South Korean officials who described satellite image showing a long cylindrical object being transported on a train through the North Korean countryside. The sinister object has been identified as a Taepodong-2, an intercontinental missile with a range of more than 4000 miles, capable of crossing the Pacific and striking targets in Hawaii or Alaska.
It is impossible to confirm independently reports from North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated and hardline dictatorships, where government of information is almost total. But the country is known to have an active missile programme, as well as nuclear warheads – although crucially it probably does not have the technology to mount a nuclear device on a long range missile.
The unnamed sources quoted by Yonhap said that any test launch was unlikely for at least a month or two. The train appeared to be heading from a missile factory in North Pyongan province in the country’s north-west to a newly constructed launch site on the west coast.
Pyongyang’s last long range missile launches in 2006 and 1998, from a base in the east, caused shock across the region, particularly in Japan, where there is a deep sense of vulnerability to North Korean attack. The apparent preparations for a launch, which are easily discernible by spy satellites, may be intended by the government as a way of asserting itself as it prepares to resume nuclear disarmament negotiations with the new US government of Barack Obama.
My colleague Patrick deGategno, acting director of the Council’s Asia Program, thinks that’s exactly what’s happening. Essentially, the Kim government wants to force Obama to make North Korea and the resumption of the 6-Party Talks a major priority: “If it takes a month or two for the missile test to take place, the announcement of it is effectively the North Koreans saying to Obama, ‘We want a quick policy response from you, and we’ll give you a month or two to come up with it.'” Beyond that, he notes, this move “takes the onus off China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea to nudge Obama along.”
That strikes me as the most plausible explanation.
The fact of the matter is that the DPRK’s “diplomacy of confrontation” has been a smashing success. The very existence of a nuclear program got them taken seriously by major actors, including the United States, and garnered them all manner of concessions. Ratcheting things up a notch to both test the resolve of the incoming American president and put themselves higher on his agenda is, while frustrating from an external standpoint, brilliant politics on their part.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.