N. Korea Launches 7 Missiles on July 4
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI - North Korea had some fireworks of its own for July 4 with the launch of seven Scud and Nodong short-range ballistic missiles from the Kittae-ryong Missile Base south of Wonsan near the east coast.
The missiles flew between 400-500 kilometers before falling into the Sea of Japan. Kittae-ryong is 66 kilometers from the South Korean border and 162 kilometers from Seoul.
The launch was a continuation of missile exercises begun on July 2 with the launch of four KN-01 anti-ship cruise missiles from Sinsong-ni Coastal Defense Missile Base north of Wonsan. These missiles flew around 100 kilometers before falling into the Sea of Japan.
The July 4 tests were not a surprise. In June, North Korea issued navigational warnings for 10 areas in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea covering June 25 to July 10 in preparation for the exercises.
There were expectations Pyongyang would launch Nodong and Scud missiles either on the July 4 anniversary of the first launch of a Taepodong-2 ICBM in 2006, or the July 8 anniversary of the 1994 death of the "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung.
Clearly the largest missile exercises conducted by North Korea to date, South Korean intelligence officials have publicly stated continued missile exercises are expected for the next few weeks.
On the KN-01 tests, since the beginning of this year North Korea has been increasing anti-ship missile and coastal artillery training exercises. The exercises might be an overall attempt by Pyongyang to "show tactical military prowess to back up escalating threats of renewed naval confrontation with South Korea over a disputed maritime border on the west coast," said Bruce Klingner, a specialist on North Korea at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
Though the missile launches appear to be "essentially a routine training exercise conducted by a East Sea Fleet coastal defense missile unit," said Joseph Bermudez, a specialist on North Korea's missile programs, they could be the "opening volleys of a much larger missile exercise" that could include long range ballistic missiles.
The exercise is also part of a long tradition of raising the stakes with the U.S. when North Korea feels threatened.
The U.S. recently targeted the assets of North Korean companies doing business with Iran suspected of violating restrictions on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Also for the past two weeks, the U.S. navy has also been shadowing a North Korean cargo ship, the Kang Nam, suspected of carrying arms for an unknown customer.
"It should also be noted that the DPRK [North Korea] rarely conducts any missile tests without an underlying political motive," Bermudez said.
"This is especially true when the international political environment is at a heightened level, such as it is presently. It should be remembered that the DPRK has an excellent track record in developing and manipulating crises. This current exercise could be the beginnings of such an effort."
In May, there was wide spread speculation North Korea planned to launch a long range Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, perhaps towards the vicinity of Hawaii.
"Expectations for longer-range missile activity were heightened by reports in May that a long-range missile transporter was observed at two North Korean launch facilities, similar to observed preparations prior to Pyongyang's April 5 launch of a Taepodong-2 missile, which flew 2,500 miles," Klingner said.
"However, U.S. intelligence sources were quoted on July 1 as stating that there were no indications of an impending long-range launch," Klingner said, noting that even after a Taepodong missile is placed on the launch stand, it normally takes several days to fuel and prepare it.
Klingner said the July 4 launches were a "blatant" disregard to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, passed in response to North Korea's May 25 nuclear test. He also called for the closure of loopholes in the resolution.
Pyongyang's continued development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile delivery capabilities in defiance of U.N. resolutions and international diplomatic pressure demonstrates a real need for the U.S., Japan and South Korea to continue to develop and deploy ballistic missile defense systems, "even as we do all we can both multilaterally and unilaterally to squeeze the regime into abandoning its programs," Klingner said.