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North Korea Threatens War if Rocket is Shot Down

The possible path of the N. Korean launch, passing over Japan. First stage will drop into the Sea of Japan (AGI)

The possible path of the N. Korean launch, passing over Japan. First stage will drop into the Sea of Japan (Video still courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. www.agi.com)

Some time between April 4th-8th, North Korea will launch a communications satellite into orbit. Unsurprisingly there is huge scepticism being voiced by Japan, South Korea and the United States that the secretive military nation is in fact carrying out a test-launch of the Taepodong-2 ballistic missile system, mounting a “peaceful” satellite to disguise its real intention. If the world’s suspicions are correct, if successful, North Korea will have a means to deliver a possible nuclear strike as far as Hawaii or Alaska. Now the North Korean army has warned that if the launch is interfered with, they will attack “major targets” in Japan.

Oh dear, it sounds like it’s going to be a rough few days in the west Pacific

A visualization of fairing separation after N. Korean rocket clears the atmosphere (Video courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. www.agi.com)

A visualization of fairing separation after N. Korean rocket clears the atmosphere (Video still courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. www.agi.com)

North Korea’s neighbour, Japan, has warned that should the rocket start to fall toward the nation, they will attempt to intercept it using anti-missile Aegis destroyers at sea and Patriot guided-missile units on the land. This is what appears to have riled the North Koreans, prompting the Korean People’s Army (KPA) to issue a sabre-rattling statement saying, “If Japan recklessly ‘intercepts’ the DPRK’s (North’s) satellite for peaceful purposes, the KPA will mercilessly deal deadly blows not only at the already deployed intercepting means but at major targets.”

Unfortunately, North Korea has not proven itself to be a particularly “open” nation, so there is huge doubt that one of the nations in the “Axis of Evil” (a phrase coined by George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002) is simply deploying a peaceful satellite. N. Korea has long been developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, but any attempt by international inspectors to understand the scope of these claims have been unsuccessful. Also, previous rocket tests have provoked international outrage as they are seen as obvious attempts to intimidate neighbouring countries (principally Japan and South Korea) and demonstrated the nation is working on more sophisticated means to increase their military reach.

The satellite-carrying rocket will be directed to fly over Japan (Video courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. www.agi.com)

The satellite-carrying rocket will be directed to fly over Japan (Video still courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. www.agi.com)

Tensions are understandably high ahead of the launch, and some sources suggest that could be as early as Saturday (April 4th) as there are indications that fuelling activities are being carried out by Pyongyang. Spy satellite images appear to show there is indeed a satellite attached to the rocket, but the US and regional allies are under no illusions that such a launch would also test ballistic missile technology, violating the UN resolution passed in 2006 in response to the underground nuclear test and repeated missile launches. North Korea can expect severe treatment by the international community should this launch go ahead.

The US and regional allies will push for more sanctions will be put into place, further damaging international relations with North Korea. However, having signed an international space exploration treaty, North Korea appears to be hoping China and Russia will block any sanctions after launch, even though the launch directly violates the UN resolution. Russia has even urged North Korea’s neighbours not to take military action against the rocket launch.

Like most actions threatened by Pyongyang, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens, but this is certainly a volatile situation…

Source: Space War

Images courtesy of of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com), where detailed analysis and visualization of the N. Korean launch.


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Hello! My name is Ian O'Neill and I've been writing for the Universe Today since December 2007. I am a solar physics doctor, but my space interests are wide-ranging. Since becoming a science writer I have been drawn to the more extreme astrophysics concepts (like black hole dynamics), high energy physics (getting excited about the LHC!) and general space colonization efforts. I am also heavily involved with the Mars Homestead project (run by the Mars Foundation), an international organization to advance our settlement concepts on Mars. I also run my own space physics blog: Astroengine.com, be sure to check it out!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jon Hanford April 4, 2009, 4:24 PM

    Just maybe an accidentally fired Hellfire missile from a rogue Predator just happens to meet up with Taepodong-2 while it’s fueling on the pad. Oops, back to the six party talks to quell the situation. Problem solved.

  • messager April 4, 2009, 4:25 PM

    Most like results of WW2 if the US did not drop the 2 atomic bombs:
    Japan was far more powerful in their home islands than the Allied forces thought. Such information was not released due to the US wanting Japan to be on the West side during the Cold War and to keep hard feelings against Japan at the minimum. For many years, it was thought Japan was finished militariy, and dropping of the bombs was not necessary and cruel, but, this info was not released until after the Cold War was over. Japan still had plenty of fight left and the US still did not fight the heart of the Japanese armies and the Japanese had plenty of deadly surprises for the Allied forces.
    In August9,1945, the Soviet Union advanced south into Japanese occupied Manchuria (at the time, a province of China, now part of China again) and into Korea, the Japanese only had left their lowest grade forces there and sent their best divisions to defend their home Islands. The results of the Soviet steamroller against weak Japanese divisions will probably be the annex of Manchuria and Korea.
    The results of the invasions of Japan would have been at least 1 million American casualties, the destruction of over 2million Japanese soldiers and the deaths of more than 20million Japanese civilians. There was some talk found out later in the freedom of information act, should the US be taking too much casualties during the invasion of Japan, they would have invited the Soviet Union to send their troops in the fight against Japan in there home Islands. Many people did not realize it at the time, or don’t know about it today , Stalin was much into real estate, his blood for land. Stalin would have wanted some real-estate for his armies loses, so the Japanese Island of Hokkaido would probably have been annexed by the Soviet Union.
    Because the genie was out of the bottle for the atomic then hydrogen or Nuclear bombs, the effects on humans would not really been known. A critial situation occurred in Cuba Oct 1962- IMHO, nuclear weapons would have been used by the US and the Soviet Union because these were thought to be just ‘ super large explosives’. Over 100 million would have been killed, and only then, would the results on humans and the effects on the fallout would have been known.. Humans are curious, and would not have believed using a nuclear device would have been far more damaging than thought unless they had proof. Aug6 and Aug9,1945 was that proof,without that proof, there would have been a nuclear war in Oct 1962.
    The world would be a far different place today and some of you may not be alive to read this as it was found later on there was far more Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba than what was told to the public for many years. There was no doubt the Soviets would have used many of their short ranged nuclear tipped missiles to strike major cities in western Europe in Oct1962 in order to prevent western European countries from entering the Soviet Union in order to occupy it when the smoke clears.
    Because sane Nations knows the dangers of using nuclear weapons, will the not so sane feel the same way?!

  • Ryan April 4, 2009, 5:06 PM

    I do not buy the space debris argument. Nobody is doing a good job on that front; just look at the recent U.S./Russian satellite collision.

  • Max April 4, 2009, 5:36 PM

    If anything the accident was a perfect example of what happens when nations do not openly cooperate in space.
    Proof that ones supposed right to launch can quickly violate someone elses right to safe passage, resulting in an international tragedy that makes no one happy.

  • Jeanell April 4, 2009, 7:30 PM

    The lead paragraph regarding the North Korean missile launch sounds like the plot of a “24” episode. Who are the villains that Jack Bauer will have to torture to ascertain the true mission purpose, and how many blind alleys and misadventures will be encountered before the finale? Is life imitating art? No matter the outcome, this matter will no doubt inspire at least one scriptwriter.

  • Paco April 4, 2009, 8:05 PM

    More like the sequel to Team America: World Police.

  • alan April 4, 2009, 11:25 PM

    Once they launch enough rockets we’ll get use to it and go back to ignoring them. Nothing to see here move along people.

  • pluto60 April 5, 2009, 12:55 AM

    yes ,we can ignore them until they launch and land one 8800km westward, then we may have to say something and ask them to please stop……….

  • Max April 5, 2009, 4:07 AM

    Somehow I don’t think a stern letter of condemnation will keep a two ton canister of hydrazine from landing in some poor Japanese mans back yard.

  • UKDave April 5, 2009, 4:56 AM

    Well they launched it, but apparently (an despite claims from NK to the contrary), it failed to put the satellite into orbit, with the rocket + payload coming down into the Pacific.

    The thing is, that under developed countries with nuclear capability, and in particular North Korea (and in the future, Iran), have no intention of using them because they know it would mean their own destruction.

    What the nuclear weapons give them is a place on the ‘top table’ in world affairs. Other countries have to take them seriously. In the case of North Korea – it means sanctions dropped, and the promise to leave them be – look the other way while Kim Jong Ill and his son continue to brutalise an entire nation.

    The fact is – that nuclear capability has averted war since the end of the second world war. India and Pakistan have been forced to back off from war. The US and the Soviets would probably have gone to war in the 1960’s. The threat of mutual annihilation forces an uneasy standoff. This is what North Korea is aiming to achieve.

  • bse5150 April 5, 2009, 7:22 AM

    So the NORK rocket went off as planned.
    Was it for the purposes of launching a ‘peaceful’ sattelite? Ask anyone who has had the luck to escape that country whether the N. Koreans can be trusted.
    Maybe the Norks should unclench their fists!
    So much for B. Hussein and Hillary’s Smart, Tough Diplomacy!

  • Jon Hanford April 5, 2009, 8:12 AM

    Now I’m curious to find out how long it’ll take the US Navy to retrieve as much of the debris as possible for analysis? I’m sure their bringing in all their resources for some sort of search. What was the ‘payload’, after all?

  • Dang-nabbit April 5, 2009, 9:21 AM

    The axis of evil? wow… that was the dumbest thing I ever heard back in 2002. It just keeps on sounding more and more ridiculous. For everyone, please, talk about international politics that affect everyone, but leave out such stupid catch-phrases that were employed for the sole purpose of inspiring a people to unit against a common enemy based on moral points of views. If they really are evil, you will serve your purpose way better in showing why its true, rather than rallying people by quoting such mind-numbingly stupid names.

  • Frank Glover April 5, 2009, 10:21 AM

    “The thing is, that under developed countries with nuclear capability, and in particular North Korea (and in the future, Iran), have no intention of using them because they know it would mean their own destruction.”

    But they may gamble that the US (and the much more accessible South Korea and Japan [the latter already knowing what it is to be on the wrong end of these things]) will not risk even *one* such weapon possibly getting through, even though we can deliver a devastating response.

    And the beliefs of the Iranian leadership may be more inclined to accept such a response, compared to the very secular North Korea, to advance those radical beliefs. The US could survive the loss of one or two cities if it had to. Israel, to put it mildly…not so much.

  • Ryan April 5, 2009, 12:41 PM

    I don’t think it is so much about the policy of MAD being (or not being) applicable anymore. It is that states like North Korea may fail, but there nukes would still be around. Look at Pakistan, that country is barely making it right now and they have nukes. I think they’ll be alright but nobody, knows.

  • curious visitor April 5, 2009, 6:47 PM

    1200miles or 1940KM, I guess they will try again and again and again until they get it right to have orbiting satellite

  • Astrofiend April 5, 2009, 9:04 PM

    This is how NK works – commit a few provocative acts, piss the world off, agree to talks, come to the bargaining table and get paid for disbanding such programs. Then fire it up again in a year or two’s time and repeat cycle. Remember their supposed nuclear tests only a year or two ago? And the transgression before that? And the one before that? They get paid by the world not to act up – the equivalent of buying your kid a toy every time they cry. This sort of handout is the pretty much only thing stopping their entire population from starving to death. So what to do? Of course, you can’t just not give aid – that punishes the population, not the leader. On the other hand, more handouts doesn’t exactly discourage their petty politicking. I don’t have the answer, that’s for damn sure.

    Anyway – of course there is no satellite – I’d be surprised if it even carried a payload, and of course they didn’t have to fire this thing over Japan – but this is how they work. It’s classic little-man syndrome – on a national scale! Not surprising when the country is run with an iron fist by a little man…

  • Jon Hanford April 6, 2009, 3:03 AM

    @ Astrofiend: I was looking forward to your take on this issue. Your posts are on topic, intelligent, and well thought out. One small issue with your last post. You said: ‘Of course, you can’t just not give aid – that punishes the population, not the leader.’ From what I’ve seen and read, most of this food aid goes to the military and the government politicians to prop up the regime. The civilian population proceeds to die from famine and neglect by their own country’s policies. Of course I, like you, don’t have the answer. But this situation will only get worse if left to keep festering. Sanctions and-or aid won’t deter this regime.

  • Chris April 6, 2009, 5:43 AM

    Did anyone check the co-ordinates they provided in the initial “press release”. It was pretty specific, did any amateur astronomers actually check? I prefer real data rather than speculation.

    Secondly, any country has a right to launch satellites, even countries I don’t like! Why worry and stress about it? Wait until they do something wrong, then respond to that, launching (or trying to launch a satellite) isn’t hurting anyone.

  • Astrofiend April 6, 2009, 5:35 PM

    Thanks Jon! Yeah – that the regime takes most of the aid to feed itself wouldn’t surprise me at all. Very sad situation, particularly when you contrast the North with the South, which has gone from strength to strength…