North Korea - a new round in the great N-power game

Posted in Koreas | 24-Feb-09 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Dieter Farwick, Global Editor-in-Chief of the World Security Network Foundation, in the De-Militarization Zone between South and North Korea: "What does North Korea want to achieve with the expected missile launch ?"

There is a lot of discussion going on in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, about some mixed signals coming from North Korea.

There are obviously plans in North Korea to fire the next strategic missile - the Taepodong - 2, reaching a distance of about 3 000 km. This missile could go as far as to Alaska.

But there are a lot of speculations and questions:

  • Do they really plan a new missile launch or is it a bluff designed to draw the attention of the new US administration to North Korea?
  • What will be at the top of the missile? A satellite or a "conventional" warhead?
  • In which direction will they fire? Again across Japan as they did in 1989?
  • Will it be a successful launch after the failure of 2006, when a Taepodong -2 exploded seconds after the start?
  • Has the launch something to do with the six-party talks about North Korea's nuclear weapons program?
  • Is this an attempt by the North Korean government to distract worldwide attention from focusing on its severe domestic problems?
  • Has the launch something to do with an awaited succession solution in the North?
  • Do they want to combine the missile launch with a conventional raid on some disputed islands or on the mainland of the peninsula?
  • Do they want to test the new US government?
  • Do they seek to remind the world that they are still high on the political agenda - in spite of the global financial and economic crisis?

There are more questions than answers at the moment.

Most experts doubt that North Korea is capable of building such a small nuclear warhead that might be carried by the strategic missile.

North Korea is believed to have about 40 kg of enriched plutonium - enough for about 5 nuclear warheads.

This development goes hand-in-hand with increasing the troop strength in the recent past and the raising of the operational readiness that has been noticed in the South. For a visitor, there are no signs that the South Korean government responds with military countermeasures -e.g. increasing troop strength close to the border. But - they are put on alert. The next days and weeks will be interesting for South Korea, Northeast Asia, for the six-party talks and for the whole world.

One can only recommend that North Korea think twice prior to any action that could heat up the tensions in the region.

The US government should send a clear message of denial or deterrence to North Korea.