High five: Messages from North Korea
TOKYO - Recent remarks by a top United States intelligence official suggest that there is now some belief that North Korea indeed plans to launch an experimental satellite into space in early April, and not a long-range ballistic missile as has been claimed.
"The North Koreans announced that they were going to do a space launch, and I believe that that's what they ... intend," Admiral Dennis Blair, the director of US National Intelligence, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 10.
The admiral's statement re-affirmed a February 24 announcement by a spokesman for the North Korean Committee of Space Technology that the nation was preparing to launch an experimental Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite communications satellite on a Galaxy-2 rocket.
On March 12, North Korea acceded to the Outer Space Treaty and informed the International Maritime Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization and other world bodies of its April 4-8 schedule for the experimental communications satellite launch.
The North Korean space agency has described the launch as a legitimate part of a peaceful space program, and said that the North had the same rights as other nations to pursue an enhanced understanding of the Earth.
As was the case with the nation's first satellite launch more than 10 years ago, the scientific research satellite will be a spectacular "firework" to celebrate the re-election of Kim Jong-il as chairman of the National Defense Commission, the April 15 birthday of the late founding father Kim Il-sung, and the April 25 Armed Forces Day.
However, the three governments of the US, Japan and South Korea have denounced the launch as a missile test, threatening to intercept it and vowing to impose additional sanctions on the North in retaliation. In contrast, the Chinese and Russian governments have notified the President Barack Obama administration that North Korea has the legitimate right to launch a satellite.
The Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army has warned that the Korean People's Army will consider the interception of the North Korean space launch vehicle as an unprovoked act of war, and retaliate with prompt strikes on the US mainland, Japan and South Korea. The North Koreans mean what they say.
An editorial in the Boston Globe, dated March 16, advised the Obama administration not to impose sanctions on North Korea as a result of the launch: "Obama will need to refrain from imposing sanctions on the North if it goes through with a ballistic missile test. Sanctions will not produce the desired results. Only in direct, give-and-take negotiations can North Korea be persuaded to close down its missile and nuclear programs."
If it happens, the destruction of the North Korean rocket could escalate into a fateful moment of truth - a full-blown nuclear exchange with disastrous consequences. North Korea's retaliatory nuclear strikes would turn the skyscraper skylines of the US into towering infernos. The Kim Jong-il administration will launch a communications satellite as planned, and has no plans to heed the threats of the US and Japan to intercept it.
The successful launch of this communications satellite will have political fallout that will spread far and wide, coming in the form of five unequivocal messages:
1. Joining the elite
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a fully fledged member of two elite clubs: that of "nuclear weapon states" and "space powers". This is a source of boundless joy and pride for the 70 million Koreans in North and South Korea.
The North's first successful orbital launch took place in 1998, and North Korea joined the club of nuclear weapons states in 2006 when it tested a hydrogen bomb trigger device.
A "space power" refers a country that has successfully placed a home-made satellite into orbit, using a domestic space launch vehicle, but the Kim Jong-il administration has set its sights on even more ambitious research. These plans include manned and unmanned space flight, such as a mission to the moon to advance human understanding of our own planet.
The DPRK is now a powerful nuclear weapons state with a strike force of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles and possesses atomic, hydrogen and neutron bombs.
John Pike, the founder and director of globalsecurity.org, told the Weekly Standard on October 19, 2006, that the North Korean nuclear test that year may have been a test of a "trigger device" for a much larger hydrogen bomb
At the time, an unidentified Western European diplomat also wrote a report describing "the secret jubilant reaction of the South Korean people, including high-ranking diplomats and military officers", to the emergence of North Korea as a nuclear power.
The South Koreans felt national pride and joy as ancestors of Koguryo, an ancient Korean kingdom (believed to have existed from around 37 BCE to 668 CE) which had highly advanced astronomical knowledge. The Kim Jong-il administration has made the DPRK a proud successor to the Koguryo era.
The International Herald Tribune reported on June 11, 2008, that South Korean people sang a popular song about the Koguryo era while protesting against the US and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak over US beef imports. "People felt their national pride hurt. Protesters, some weeping, were singing a popular song about, not American beef, but an ancient Korean kingdom that extended into what became Manchuria, now northeast China," reported the newspaper.
During the Koguryo era, in the first century AD, the world's oldest complete celestial map was engraved on stone at Pyongyang castle. During the era a wide range of astronomical instruments were also invented, including the astrolabes (an ancient astronomical computer), the armillary sphere (a skeletal celestial sphere with a model of the Earth or the sun in the center), the celestial globe (a globe depicting the stars), and the sun dial.
A replica of the celestial map engraved during the Koguryo era was reproduced at the end of the 15th century by Korea's King Sejong (1418-1450).
The Kim Jong-il administration plans to demonstrate through the launch the readiness of the DPRK to emerge as a serious contender in the fast expanding commercial satellite business.
Planned follow-ups to the launch, such as scientific research satellites for communications, natural resources exploration and weather forecasting will demonstrate to interested parties North Korea has independent capabilities of launching space launch vehicles - for competitive fees. Western investors have already shown interest in the DPRK's rocket, but developing countries can also take advantage of North Korea's satellite launch services for commercial and scientific purposes.
2. Economic advances
North Korea is also close to joining a third elite club, the group of most economically developed countries. The Kim Jong-il administration has full confidence its people will soon bid farewell to many years of post-war austerity, and cross the threshold of economic prosperity by 2012 - the centenary of the birth of founding father Kim Il-sung.
A 2006 Citigroup economic report predicted that the Kim Jong-il administration is building Asia's next tiger economy: "North Korea's economic reforms are probably broadly comparable to those in China in the mid-to late-1980s. In some areas, such as foreign exchange rate policy, North Korea is probably already beyond the China of the early 1990s. Actual progress in economic reforms has been way beyond our expectations."
The nation's nuclear and rocket technology, incorporating sophisticated techniques in metallurgy, microelectronics and information technology, also has potential economic spin-offs. The DPRK already produces personal computers domestically and supplies many animation companies.
As reported by Asia Times Online in 2007: "[I]t is relatively little-known fact that [North Korea] is a hidden outsourcing Mecca for the international animation industry, producing such well-known movies as The Lion King. (See US cartoons 'made in North Korea' , Asia Times Online, March 14, 2007.)
"North Korea's cartoon industry has become quite sophisticated as a result of its cooperation with France and Italy in their animation projects since 1983. North Korea's animation skills now rank among the world's best, experts say."
European business transactions with North Korea are now in the largest expansion period since 2001, Radio Free Asia reported on March 3, 2009. "We, Europe, are now in economic recessions. Companies are trying to reduce the cost. So there are several business areas European or Dutch companies feel attracted to in North Korea. Dutch companies are doing more and more business in North Korea."
North Korea is home to the world's largest exploitable high-quality uranium ore reserves, which have been estimated at 4 million tons against a total of 4.8 million tons in the rest of the world.
3. Dear Leader's success
The spectacular emergence of North Korea as a de jure member of the elite nuclear and space clubs leaves no doubt in the eyes of Korea's population that Kim Jong-il is the greatest of national heroes born in the "Land of Morning Calm", founded by King Dankun 5,000 years ago.
Kim Jong-il's distinguished and dedicated statesmanship has contributed substantially to the emergence of North Korea as members of the two elite clubs, and position as a strong favorite to join the third.
His success is little short of a miracle, given the fact that most Western observers expected the nation to collapse years ago into a radioactive heap after it was targeted by former US president George W Bush for regime change and pre-emptive nuclear strikes.
The DPRK has had to undertake what it has termed "the arduous march", while being at a state of war for half a century and living under the US nuclear sword of Damocles. While in office, former US president Bill Clinton regularly said the North Korean regime would collapse before his administration completed a project to supply it with two light-water reactors.
Gay Samore, an International Institute for Strategic Studies expert on non-proliferation, said in 2005: "People have been betting on the collapse of the North Korean regime for 15 years now, and it hasn't happened."
4. US hostility
The US policy of hostility to Pyongyang, such as sanctions and refusal to end the technical state of war which has existed with the North since 1953, have failed to prevent Kim Jong-il and his resourceful people from lifting the DPRK into the two elite clubs of nuclear and space powers.
Self-evidently, and despite their appeal, a peace treaty and full restoration of ties with the US can be dispensed with in the national drive to become a strong and prosperous country.
The Kim Jong-il administration has managed to protect the independence and sovereignty of the DPRK and keep the ancestral Land of Morning Calm free from war, despite repeated US attempts to reduce it to a second Iraq or Afghanistan.
This fact was pointed out by a former US assistant secretary of defense in an op-ed published in the March 12, 2003 edition of the Los Angeles Times, Professor Joseph Nye at Harvard's Kennedy School of Administration, said: "The decision to focus on Iraq rather than North Korea shows that deterrence works, but in this case what it shows is North Korea's ability to deter the United States."
The renunciation of nuclear weapons programs, as the US has often asked the North to do, has earned nations such as Libya little of the rewards promised in return by the US. The New York Times reported on March 10 that five years after it halted its nuclear weapons programs, Libya has charged the US with doing little to fulfill promises of compensation.
5. Eventual reunification
With the satellite launch the movement for the long-elusive reunification of the divided Korean Peninsula will receive a much-needed boost.
Indications are that in South Korean people have a widely shared feeling of being "over the moon" with the launch. The Korean Peninsula is now in the early phases of reunification, as illustrated by the opening of a railway and roads through the Military Demarcation Line and the presence of joint North-Korean commercial projects in Kaesong and Pyongyang.
An American official was quoted as by the New York Times on December 25, 2002 as saying that the impact of expected North Korean nuclear capability "will cause some secret shivers of pride amongst some in the South".
Dr John Delury, director of the China Boom Project and associate director of the Center on US-China Relations at the US Asia Society, has also said: " ... the will to reunify among South Koreans runs much deeper than pocketbook considerations, and should not be underestimated. Reunification is something close to a civic religion."
Kim Myong Chol is author of a number of books and papers in Korean, Japanese and English on North Korea, including Kim Jong-il's Strategy for Reunification. He has a PhD from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's Academy of Social Sciences and is often called an "unofficial" spokesman of Kim Jong-il and North Korea.