Monday, April 09, 2012

Saying "Yes" To North Korea


misairu o
omocha ni dadakko
onedari shi

The missile
A spoiled child pleads for it
As though for a toy

- Tomie Haruo
a resident of Setagaya-ku
printed in the Tokyo Shimbun of 2012.03.24
Now that the government of the DPRK has blown the lid off the secrecy surrounding its planned rocket launch, in the biggest way possible (J), the onus is now on the international community -- or at least the members of the international community that thought they had boxed in the DPRK on the matter of testing ballistic missile technology under the guise of a satellite launch -- to figure out how to respond. By letting the non-DPRK media visit the launch site and see a mock up of the supposed satellite, the calls to shoot down the rocket have become absurd (E).

Japanese preparations for a missile intercept of a launch or separation failure, however, are not absurd. There is real danger inherent in the rocket launch. Unless it is a copy of the North Korean designs successfully launched by the Iranians, the launch in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung's birth will be a test flight. Engineers and scientists have not been allowed their own opinions as to the soundness of the rocket's design nor of the necessary minimum conditions under which the rocket can be launched. They have, of course, a strong incentive to have the rocket perform as planned as their livelihoods or indeed their lives will be at stake. However, the final decision to launch is a political, not a scientific, decision.

The rocket launch has two technical objectives: putting a satellite into earth orbit and having the booster rockets fall within the announced splashdown zones. The chances that an untested design will meet these objectives is unacceptably low, by international standards. Paradoxically, much of the uncertainty regarding the safety of the launch is due to the international community’s ban on North Korean testing of ballistic missile technology – although the North Koreans have had an outlet in having Iranians and Pakistan run test flights of what are basically North Korean designs. It is not clear, however, what indigenous refinements of the basic North Korean design have been shared by the Iranians and the Pakistanis with their original supplier.

Something can and most likely will go wrong. America and its allies have guffawed at previous North Korean failures but such schadenfraude is misplaced and puerile. While North Korean designers have likely learned a great deal from previous failures, they have had far too few failures – because they have been allowed no tests – to learn enough to make sure that this upcoming launch, this incredibly important political event, goes off as planned.

By letting the press view the rocket, however, the North Koreans may have committed a major tactical blunder. The North Korean government invited eight countries and governments to send observers to its satellite launch (E). The Japanese government, the American government, the European Space Agency and even the Russian government (E) have all turned down the invitations on the principle that accepting these invitations would be giving tacit approval of what has been portrayed as U.N. Security Council-prohibited test of ballistic missile technology. The North Korean government indeed issued these invitations on the assumption they would be rejected.

The press event at the launch site, however, allows the Japanese government, other governments and the ESA an opportunity to rescind their refusals, and ask politely to have observers at the launch.

Such a request would put the DPRK in a quandary. The government propaganda department will announce the reversals of the decisions of the previously reluctant countries and the ESA as a coup. Of course, the propaganda department is in the business of transforming everything into a coup, redefining death from starvation, for example, as a triumph of self-determination.

For the DPRK's generals and the coterie surrounding Kim Jong-un, having foreigners, most likely select, knowledgeable analysts, on site will put an unmanageable amount pressure on the launch to be a success. The launch is unstoppable; it has become an event too important to regime survival for any international intervention to countermand (E). With foreign observers, some from hostile powers, on site means the damn thing will have to work. Otherwise the primary goal of justifying the existing regime will be damaged, possibly fatally. A failure in the initial boost phase or at the separation of the primary and secondary boosters could indeed serve as a pretext for Kim Jong-un to launch a purge of the generals surrounding him on the grounds the launch failure ruined his grandpa's birthday party.

If the launch goes forward without a hitch, the observing nations suffer no loss of face. Indeed they have a vested interest in backing down from the appearance of holding bellicose intentions toward the rocket launch. The DPRK has put forward a strong case that the launch is its right under international law guaranteeing open access to peaceful uses of space. If it succeeds in placing the satellite in orbit, which is a big if, it cannot crow that other nations failed to bring the rocket down as they intended. It can crow that the mission's success has left the world dumbfounded -- but the propaganda crew intended to do that anyway, no matter if the rocket put a satellite into orbit or took a quick dive into the East China Sea.

So undo the overhasty announcements of cutoffs of nutritional aid or further negotiations regarding the DPRK's nuclear programs, send observers, wish the DPRK well on the flight -- and have the SM-3s and PAC-3's ready to respond if it becomes clear the rocket is off course and threatening Japan, South Korea or even China.

That the North Koreans are devious buggers who slipped this launch in after a unilateral declaration on a breakthrough on the resumption of nutritional assistance from the United States (E) should have been a surprise to no one. Making a big deal of the North Koreans being duplicitous was a terrible move -- for if after 18 years of negotiating with the DPRK's representatives the DPRK specialists have not learned the art of shrugging their shoulders when the DPRK subsequently acts in way undermining the spirit, if not always the letter, of an agreement, then they are really, really, really stupid. Especially since in this instance the duplicity is so mild, nothing nearly as flat out dangerous nuts as, let us say, setting off a nuclear device or building another nuclear facility for a client like the Syrians.

So let the DPRK have its fireworks display for its big centenary celebration. Adopt the pretense of enjoying it. Put the onus on the DPRK's rocketeers to not mess up. For heads will roll, big-hatted ones, if they blow it.

Later - Many thanks to reader NP, who is French, for correcting my German.

No comments: