Tensions between the secretive nation of North Korea and the United States have intensified following the relocation of a suspected ‘mid-range’ missile to the eastern coast of the DPRK, placing US bases in the Pacific under possible attack.
An announcement of the latest troublesome phase of DPRK President Jong-Un Kim‘s sabre-rattling came in a briefing earlier this week (4 April) by Kwan-Jin Kim, the foreign minister of South Korea. North Korea’s neighbour on the Korean peninsula is one of the United State’s key allies in the region and a sworn enemy of the North’s Communist regime.
Mr. Kim played down concerns that the missile was capable of striking targets on the American West Coast, despite some Japanese and South Korean media reports claiming that the missile had a range of up to 6,000 kilometres. Although the North’s military manoeuvres are carefully watched by South Korean government observers, Kim said that as of yet the North Korean government’s intentions were not clear. Analysts studying the increased hostility in the region have also expressed concern. A recent news report by the BBC quoted one as saying “Pyongyang’s angry statements are of more concern than usual because it is unclear exactly what the North hopes to achieve”. This has been made more difficult by the North’s notorious secrecy and its distrust of outsiders, even neutral ones.
Experts believe that the rocket is less powerful than the most formidable weapon in North Korea’s arsenal, a long-range missile that can reach a distance of over six thousand kilometres, as far as the state of Alaska and airbases in Guam, a U.S. territory in the north Pacific. Mr. Kim in a parliamentary meeting with fellow South Korean ministers last week said: “The missile does not seem to be aimed at the US mainland. It could be aimed at test firing or military drills“. Despite this, U.S. army chiefs have ordered anti-missile shields to be sent to Guam, as Jong-Un Kim continues to further ramp up vitriol and threats against the U.S. and South Korea. As the North Koreans become increasingly uncomfortable with US-South Korean war games, including the flying of nuclear-capable warplanes over the South’s airspace, the United States, unable to gauge the unstable temperament of Jong-Un Kim’s regime, have ramped up defences.
A statement attributed to the DPRK government warns that the “ever-escalating US hostile policy towards the DPRK [North Korea] and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed” and that if provoked, the regime would call into action “cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK” potentially causing hundreds of thousands of U.S. military and civilian casualties. The U.S. Department of Defense has reacted to this statement by releasing a ballistic Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (Thaad) to the island of Guam within the coming weeks. Thaad is a missile defence shield capable of intercepting and destroying any missiles fired from the Korean peninsula and will be the States’ first line of protection against any attack by the North Koreans. It will consist of a truck-mounted launcher and interceptor missiles. A destroyer, the USS John McCain, has also been sent to patrol South Korean waters, carrying a second array of missile interceptors.
The relocated missile is believed to be the medium-range Musudan, designed with a detonation range of about 4,000 kilometres, placing Guam within the danger zone. Most of North Korea’s heavily fortified missile launching sites are located in the east of the country, along with its top-secret ballistics research centres. The closeness of the bases and research facilities to the Pacific Ocean may have been an attempt by the North Koreans to instil fear into the Americans, whom they regard as ‘imperialists’, an anathema to their fiercely respected communist ideals.
The Musudan missile, here displayed at a DPRK military parade, has been allegedly activated at a launch site on North Korea’s eastern seaboard.
North Korea has already carried out a number of missile firing tests on its eastern coast, including the nuclear tests that have brought additional sanctions this year against the DPRK, leading to the current tension in the Far East. Despite its rhetoric, North Korea has not carried out a direct attack on foreign soil since 2010, when a military unit shelled a disputed South Korean-owned border island, killing four soldiers and civilians. In recent weeks, DPRK President Jong-Un Kim has issued threats with escalating frequency since the United Nations sanctions were imposed after his latest nuclear tests.
Determined to carry on the legacy of his father Jong-Il Kim, the newly crowned ‘Great Leader’ has increasingly threatened the fragile stability in the Korean peninsula in an attempt to prove his military credentials among the top brass who served under his late father. In recent weeks, the DPRK regime has threatened to turn Seoul into a ‘sea of fire’, confronted the Americans by voicing its intention to target missiles at U.S. interests in the Pacific and has officially terminated the armistice that ended the Korean War over fifty years ago. The two Koreas are technically still at war as no peace treaty was signed between them after cessation of hostilities. The two countries are separated by a 2.5 km. wide demilitarised zone ringed with barbed wire and lined with heavily armed lookout posts.
The state of detente between the two Koreas is all but gone. In the past few days an industrial estate in Kaesong, a few miles inland on the North Korean side of the DMZ was shut down on government orders. The site employed around 15,000 north and south Koreans, providing valuable employment and hard currency to the impoverished North. Kaesong was closed without warning earlier this week, causing South Korean workers to be trapped as they were unable to cross the DMZ. North Korea has also cut off a telephone line which was the last available communication between the two states. In defiance of both the U.S. and the U.N., North Korea has also re-opened a mothballed nuclear facility in Yongbyon, defying international directives against the secretive regime developing nuclear warheads and enriching uranium.
Many thanks to Sunny Atwal for suggesting today’s article.
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“North Korea ‘moves mid-range missile’ ” – BBC News Asia LINK