North Korea appears certain to fire a long-range rocket this
month in defiance of appeals by friends and foes alike to give up
the plan in the interests of regional stability.
In what's widely seen as another intimidating display of military
potential, the North has announced it will launch the rocket
sometime between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22. North Korea has notified the
International Maritime Organization of the anticipated trajectory of
the rocket, which will drop its first stage over the Yellow Sea west
of South Korea and its second stage near the Philippines, and
analysts see little prospect of any change of plans.
The pressure on North Koreas supreme leader Kim Jong-un to assert
his authority over military leaders also appears to be a motivating
factor, ahead of the first anniversary Dec. 17 of the death of his
father, Kim Jong-il. As chairman of the national defense commission,
Kim Jong-il had consolidated his power and won the loyalty of
generals whom his son has largely replaced amid questions about his
real grip over the North's sprawling military establishment.
Domestically, North Korea wants to promote national solidarity,
says Choi Jin-wook, North Korea expert at the Korean Institute of
National Unification in Seoul.
The anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il seems like a
particularly appropriate time in view of the failure of the launch
of the same type of missile April 13, two days before the centennial
of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the father of Kim Jong-il and
grandfather of Kim Jong-un. The missile plunged into the Yellow Sea
90 seconds after the launch.
Undeterred by diplomatic flurry
Diplomatic efforts to dissuade North Korea from the launch have
intensified even as satellite imagery shows North Korean engineers
and technicians preparing a site in the far northwestern region of
the country. Lim Sung-nam, South Koreas envoy on efforts at dialogue
with North Korea, has flown to Washington for talks with US
officials that he says are intended to maximize diplomatic efforts
North Korea appears oblivious not only to protests from the US,
South Korea, and Japan, but also to discouraging words from China,
its main benefactor and ally, and Russia, which also provides
limited amounts of aid.
China, under pressure from the US and others to persuade North
Korea to give up the plan, has been extremely circumspect. A Chinese
foreign ministry spokesman has said that all sides should be careful
not to worsen the problem, while stressing the need for peace and
stability on the Korean peninsula and in the region.
Russias foreign ministry has been somewhat more direct, appealing
to North Korea to reconsider the decision to launch a rocket.
The North Korean plan has rekindled memories of the launch of the
first Taepodong on Aug. 31, 1998, when the rocket was fired over the
main Japanese island of Honshu before landing in the western
Japans Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda promptly cancelled plans for
long-delayed talks with North Korea that were scheduled for this
week, while Japans anti-missile system was put on alert with orders
to shoot down the North Korean rocket if it flew anywhere over