N. Korea Launches, Ignoring International Pressure
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI - North Korea went forward with its planned satellite launch April 4 despite international pressure to cancel.
The U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) confirmed that North Korea launched a Taepodong 2 missile at 10:30 p.m. EDT from its Musudan-ri missile facility on the east coast.
The first stage fell into the Sea of Japan with the second and third stages falling into the Pacific Ocean. No satellite reached orbit and Japan made no attempt to shoot the missile down, according to NORAD.
"NORAD and USNORTHCOM assessed the space launch vehicle as not a threat to North America or Hawaii and took no action in response to this launch," said the USNORTHCOM Web site.
Joseph Bermudez, a U.S.-based expert on North Korean missile technology, said the missile is actually the Unha 2 (Galaxy 2) space launch vehicle, a modified Taepodong 2. The missile was possibly carrying with a Kwangmyongsong 2 (Brightstar 2) experimental communications satellite.
A previous Taepodong 2 launch in 2006 failed after 40 seconds and fell into the Sea of Japan. In 1998, a Taepodong 1 successfully overflew Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean. In 1993, North Korea launched a medium-range Rodong ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan.
Bermudez said that historically North Korea has conducted both "military and missile exercises within a political context." This missile launch is no different, which was scheduled "only days before the First Session of its newly elected 12th Supreme People's Assembly on April 9."
Recent reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke in 2008 raised concerns over succession and political stability. Some analysts believe the new launch has to do with solidifying Kim's leadership position and placating the military.
"Like rulers elsewhere, when facing problems at home, deflect the public's attention elsewhere," said C. Kenneth Quinones, who served as the U.S. State Department's North Korean affairs officer from 1992 to 1994, and now is living in Japan.
Kim is no different, he said. "Kim Jong Il likewise is trying to deflect attention away from his own domestic political woes by launching a 'satellite.' For Kim, the problem is the lack of a consensus about who is to take his place, plus problems with China."
"Politically, Kim cannot afford to appear to bow to international pressure," said Quinones. "This would undermine his credibility as North Korea's leader. Bowing would similarly verge on treason in the eyes of his politically potent generals."
He said the greater the international pressure on Kim the more "he will appear to be a resolute champion of Korean independence and warrior against 'imperialism,' i.e. the USA and Japan." Quinones served on the U.S. team that negotiated the Agreed Framework of 1994 and lived at the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center.