Tensions in Northeast Asia suddenly spiked when North Korea threatened a “counterstrike” against any country that attempts to shoot down a long range missile that it plans to test launch. North Korea calls the planned test launch a satellite test.
The United States and its allies, including South Korea, suspect that North Korea is planning to test a missile capable of lofting a nuclear warhead, not only against South Korea and Japan, but perhaps as far as the American states of Alaska and Hawaii. North Korea is thought to possess a hand full of nuclear bombs.
The North Korean missile is a Taepodong 2, which suffered a launch failure in 2006. The two stage variant of the Taepodong 2 is capable of lofting a 500 kilogram payload upwards to 4300 kilometers. The three stage variant of the Taepodong 2 is capable of lofting a 1000 kilogram payload 4300 kilometers or a smaller payload even further.
It is the position of the United States and her allies that any attempt by North Korea to launch the Taepodong 2 would be a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Hence, there has been speculation that the United States would shoot down the North Korean missile should it be launched.
On the other hand, Law Professor Glenn Reynolds, an expert in space law, suggests that if the North Korean launch is of a peaceful satellite, an attempt to shoot it down would be a violation of the Outer Space Treaty. “Still, it’s an interesting question as to what degree of reasonable suspicion is required to justify a shootdown as self-defense,” Professor Reynolds posted on his blog, Instapundit.
The North Korean government is belligerent in the best of times. But North Korea’s threat of what is essentially war against its neighbors as well as the United States suggests a new level of aggressiveness. North Korea has stated that it has placed its military on alert.
A war on the North Korean peninsula would be catastrophic. Leaving its nuclear arsenal aside, North Korean has enough conventional artillery in range of the South Korean capital of Seoul to reduce it to rubble before allied forces could suppress it. North Korea would lose any conflict, especially if it went nuclear or if China were to intervene against it. But the cost in lives and treasure would be unimaginable.
There is speculation that North Korea is taking this aggressive stance as a means of testing President Barack Obama, just as Vice President Joe Biden suggested would happen during the campaign. President Obama has signaled a new reliance on diplomacy for his administration. North Korea may be interpreting that as a sign of weakness and is now pressing ahead with threats in order to extract concessions.
President Obama is said to be “overwhelmed” by the current economic crisis to be bothered by foreign policy. One might suggest that President Obama find the time to deal with matters like North Korea, or not only he but the world will pay the price.
Sources: N. Korea warns intercepting ‘satellite’ will prompt counterstrike, AP, March 9th, 2009
Taep’o-dong 2 (TD-2), North Korean Missiles, Federation of American Scientists
Post on North Korean Missile Test and Outer Space Treaty, Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit, March 8th, 2009