May 25, 2013
Up, Up and Away: The West’s Hysterical Reaction to North Korea
Posted on Apr 17, 2009
By Scott Ritter
Six minutes before 1 o’clock in the afternoon, on Jan. 23, a 173-foot-tall, two-stage rocket lifted off from Northeast Asia. Capable of carrying a giant 33,000-pound payload, the rocket’s liquid-fuel engine, supplemented by two solid-fuel strap-on booster rockets, generated nearly half a million pounds of thrust before giving way to the second stage, likewise powered by a liquid-fuel engine. After reaching a height of nearly 430 miles, the rocket released into orbit a 3,850-pound satellite, along with seven smaller probes. Other than the small community of scientists interested in the data expected to be collected from the “Ibuki” Greenhouse Gases Observatory Satellite (GOSAT), the rocket’s main payload, very few people around the world took notice of the launch. The United Nations Security Council did not meet in an emergency session to denounce the launch, nor did it craft a package of punitive economic sanctions in response.
The reason? The rocket in question, the H-2A, was launched by Japan, at its Tanegashima Space Launch Facility. Deemed an exclusively civilian program, the H-2A has been launched 15 times since its inaugural mission on Aug. 29, 2001. Four of these launches have been in support of exclusively military missions, delivering spy satellites into orbit over North Korea. Although capable of delivering a modern nuclear warhead to intercontinental ranges, the H-2A is seen as a “non-threatening” system since its liquid-fueled engines require a lengthy fueling process prior to launching, precluding any quick-launch capability deemed essential for a military application.
In contrast, on April 5, at 11:30 in the morning, North Korea launched a three-stage rocket called “Unha,” or “Milky Way,” which it claimed was carrying a single small communications satellite weighing a few hundred pounds. Like the H-2A, the “Unha,” better known in the West as the Taepodong-2, is liquid-fueled, requiring weeks of preliminary preparation before launch. Although North Korea declared the vehicle to be intended for launching a satellite, the launch was condemned even before it occurred as “dangerous” and “provocative,” unlike Japan’s similar efforts.
The Taepodong-2 launch was the second attempt by the North Koreans to get this particular design airborne. In 2006, the first effort ended in failure when the rocket exploded some 40 seconds after liftoff. The second launch, by all accounts (except North Korea’s, which announced that its satellite was successfully orbiting the Earth, broadcasting patriotic music), was likewise a failure. The first stage, based on a Chinese design derived from the CSS-2 missile, seemed to function as intended, given the fact that it splashed down in the Sea of Japan in the area expected. However, the second stage, together with the smaller solid-fuel third stage designed to boost the satellite into orbit, fell several hundred miles short of its anticipated impact area, indicating a failure of the second stage to perform properly and, ultimately, launch the satellite. Western hysteria, which labeled the North Korean rocket a direct threat to the western United States, prompting calls for the missile to be shot down, proved unfounded.
In October 2006, in response to North Korea’s announcement that it had conducted an underground test of a nuclear weapon, the Security Council of the United Nations passed Resolution 1718. This resolution, passed under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, condemned the North Korean nuclear weapon test and called for the imposition of economic sanctions until North Korea’s nuclear weapons program was dismantled and its nuclear program as a whole reintegrated into the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. It also singled out North Korea’s ballistic missile programs, demanding that Pyongyang “not conduct any further ... launch of a ballistic missile” and “suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and in this context re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching” and “abandon all other existing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programme in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”
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