North Korea Launches Rocket to Defy International Community
Alex GORKA | 07.02.2016 | WORLD / Asia Pacific

North Korea Launches Rocket to Defy International Community

North Korea has launched a long-range rocket over Japan claiming it was a satellite and the country is «legitimately exercising the right to use space for independent and peaceful purpose».

According to the North Korean government, the launch of the satellite Kwangmyongsong-4 was a 'complete success' and it was making a polar orbit of Earth every 94 minute. Pyongyang is planning further launches.

North Korea is believed to be working on a miniaturized nuclear warhead to mount on a missile, but many experts say it is still some time away from perfecting such a technology.

The launch is a clear defiance of multiple UN resolutions. It has been condemned by the UN and all major world powers.

Isolated North Korea insists it has a right to pursue a space program, no matter it is barred from using ballistic missile technology under UN Security Council resolutions. Previously it tested nuclear explosive devices in 2006, 2009 and 2013, and claimed it successfully delivered a satellite into orbit in December 2012, the last time it launched a long-range rocket. In June 2014, a North Korean propaganda film briefly showed what some experts said might be a newly developed cruise missile. This January Pyongyang claimed a successful detonation of a hydrogen bomb.

The US takes advantage of North Korea’s defiance of international community to use it as a pretext for boosting its military presence, especially missile defense capability, in the Pacific.

Here is a good example. Right after the launch, South Korea said it would begin discussions with the United States on an advanced missile-defence system Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), which can target short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles in flight. The goal of the formal consultations is to see if it's possible to deploy and operate THAAD on the Korean Peninsula «at the earliest possible date», according to the joint statement.

Before the launch, South Korea had been reluctant to discuss openly the possibility of deploying THAAD, caught between its biggest ally, the United States, and its largest trading partner, China, which has expressed concern about a system the radar of which could penetrate Chinese territory.

The United States has about 28,500 troops in the country. South Korea's military said it would conduct annual military exercises with US forces «the most cutting-edge and the biggest» this year. The South Korean military has almost finished construction of a new naval base on the strategically located Jeju Island. The Jeju Island naval base will be a homeport for ships that carry US ballistic missile defense-capable Aegis missiles.

Last April the US, South Korea and Japan signed the «Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement Concerning the Nuclear and Missile Threats Posed by North Korea» to signify an intensification of working-level consultations for effective implementation of the arrangement for sharing information on North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

The report titled «Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy» was issued by the US Defense Department last August. It said, Washington will «maintain the necessary military presence and capabilities to protect US interests and those of allies and partners against potential threats in maritime Asia».

North Korea is among the threats to counter.

«The United States maintains 368,000 military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region», the report states. «Over the next five years, the US Navy will increase the number of ships assigned to Pacific Fleet outside of US territory by approximately 30%, greatly improving our ability to maintain a more regular and persistent maritime presence in the Pacific. And by 2020, 60% of naval and overseas air assets will be home-ported in the Pacific region».

The paper also mentions various territorial and maritime disputes in the South China and the East China Seas, involving Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan.

A new study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) saw light this January laying out detailed plans for the Pentagon’s preparations for war in Asia. The report, entitled «Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025: Capabilities, Presence, and Partnerships», examines the range of threats to US dominance in Asia, but there is no doubt that its chief preoccupation and target is China.

The document presents Pyongyang as an imminent threat undermining the security of US closest allies. Potential initiatives could include deepening of US-China dialogues – such as the Asia-Pacific Security Dialogue – that would include more direct discussion of regional strategies and perspectives on difficult issues, such as North Korea. It also calls for countering the regional «ambitions» of Russia and China. 

Actually, the paper is nothing less than a master plan for an accelerating arms race in the region in preparation for a conflict. While focusing considerable attention on Japan, South Korea and Australia, it appraises a long list of countries, including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. The recommendations include:

• Restructuring and consolidating US military forces in Japan and South Korea, including the completion of new bases, a major extension of military facilities on Guam, and the expansion of the American Marine, air and naval presence in Australia.

• Stationing a second aircraft carrier strike group to complement one already permanently stationed in Japan, as well as «additional surface force presence», such as Littoral Combat Ships, four of which are due to be stationed in Singapore.

• Improving «undersea capacity», such as the «near-term» stationing of two additional nuclear attack submarines in Guam and the future basing of advanced Virginia class nuclear submarines elsewhere in the region, including at Stirling naval base in Western Australia and the Indian Ocean base of Diego Garcia.

•  Expanding and reorganizing the US Marine and Army forces throughout the region.

• Diversifying air bases to counter potential Chinese attacks, including to «the Philippines, Australia and others».

• Boosting anti-missile systems throughout the region to neutralize China’s ability to respond to a US attack – nuclear or non-nuclear.

• Stockpiling «critical precision munitions» in secure locations to ensure the US military’s ability to engage in «large-scale and high-intensity conflicts».

• Undertaking major research aimed at countering any potential Chinese military response to US attack, such as a new generation of advanced, long range anti-ship, anti-surface and anti-air missiles, and the development of new weapons, including «three promising options» – railgun, directed-energy and upgraded conventional guns.

Other projects include a new long range strike bomber, greater payload capacity for nuclear submarines, and augmented space, cyber and electronic warfare capabilities. The US forces must be able to launch a major war against China within hours and sustain it for whatever time is necessary.

Actually, the process of fulfilling these ambitious plans is in full gear.

Last December the US Department of Defense released $309 million toward the construction of a new marine base in Guam. This US territory in the western Pacific is about to become a hub for a force of 4800 Marines.

Past base improvement efforts and other contracts related to the USA’s pacific territory of Guam include construction of an RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV complex for the Pacific Rim, and extensive base improvements expansion for Guam’s airfield and harbor. Japan, which hosts most of the troops who would be sent to Guam, is paying for more than a third of the estimated cost ($12.09 billion) of creating the new Marine facilities. Japan will probably participate in joint exercises when the training grounds are built. Last April the US and Japan agreed to a major update in their military relationship – The Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation.

The document envisions a greater global presence for Japan's military while strengthening ties between the two nations on cyber, space and industrial programs. Now Tokyo is able to defend regional allies that come under attack, a change that means Japanese missile defense systems could be used to intercept any weapons, including North Korean, launched toward the United States.  In addition, the agreement will result in increased Japanese presence around the globe on peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, and potentially also on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations.

The Guidelines will also lead to the establishment of a standing «alliance coordination mechanism», made up of Japanese and US officials from the defense and foreign relations sides. That body will provide a streamlined way of organizing and controlling US-Japan operations, something that has hindered the military relationship in the past.

The Mariana Islands – Pagan and Tinian – are also to become a testing ground for large-scale exercises involving every branch of the American military and its Pacific allies.

The US plans also include the deployment of its military on Palawan, a Philippine island near disputed territory in the South China Sea, right on the edge of what Beijing considers its backyard.

According to the Stars and Stripes, the Supreme Court of the Philippines gave the green light last month to an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allowing US forces to build facilities, store equipment and rotate forces through the nation’s military bases.

The agreement grants the US access to five military airfields, two naval bases and a jungle training camp. In addition, the US is seeking access to three civilian seaports and airfields on Luzon, including the port at Subic Bay. This would give the US its first large-scale military presence in the Philippines since 1992, when the US Navy left Subic Bay. The Palawan deployment would put US forces close to the disputed Spratly Islands, where China has been reclaiming land and building airfields and other facilities.

The attempts of the United States to create powerful military infrastructure in Asia are unfounded, as Washington is strongly exaggerating the scope of threats existing in the region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia.

Russia and China have many timed expressed their concern over the US activities aimed at creating a ballistic missile defense potential in the Pacific to counter their capability to retaliate in case of a nuclear strike.

«The United States is engaged in a very huge military buildup in Asia, including under the pretext of countering the North Korean threat but the scale of the buildup is way beyond the need and disproportionally huge», Lavrov said.

The Russian Foreign Minister also pointed out that the United States is «building missile defense in cooperation with Japan and South Korea, which is not helpful at all».

He also made clear Russia’s position on the plans to deploy such BMD systems as THAAD in the vicinity of Russian borders. «The fact that the United States dropped from the ABM Treaty [treaty that limited the number of anti-ballistic missile defense systems against nuclear-armed ballistic missiles] some time ago was a destabilizing factor of global importance. It triggers buildup and brings us back to the mutually assured destruction logic as it relates to the strategic stability», Lavrov noted.

He emphasized that Russia would not engage in the arms race as it has enough technological means to provide a much cheaper answer to the threat.

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The problem of North Korea is a common threat and all major world actors are in the same boat trying to prevent the worst from happening. At the same time Pyongyang pays lip service to international security providing a pretext for US efforts to establish its hegemony in the region and tip the military balance into its favor.