by Andrew Walden
North Korea is for the third time since 2006 preparing to launch a long-range Taepodong-2 missile from its base along the western shores of the Korean peninsula near the Chinese border. Both previous tests were reportedly aimed at Hawaii.
South Korean news reports said the North has transported a long-range missile to a newly completed launch pad. And Yonhap news agency said South Korea is studying an intelligence report that the North has ordered troops along the west coast to double their stocks of ammunition. Yonhap cited an unnamed government official as saying vehicle activity to and from military bases along the coast has increased. South Korea's Defense Ministry declined to confirm the report.
U.S Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at a news conference in the Philippines, said North Korea appears to be working on a long-range missile but it's not clear yet what they plan to do with it.
(S. Korea President) Lee, hosting a conference of Southeast Asian leaders on the southern island of Jeju, warned North Korea against any provocation.
"If North Korea turns its back on dialogue and peace and dares to carry out military threats and provocations, the Republic of Korea will never tolerate that," Lee said in his regular radio address. "I want to make clear that there won't be any compromise on things that threaten our nation's security."
The new missile could be ready to launch as soon as mid-June, in time for a summit between Lee and President Barack Obama in Washington on June 16, according to the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper.
An April 5 Taepodong-2 launch passed over Japan and crashed into the Pacific Ocean between Japan and Hawaii. North Koran authorities claimed the launch was designed to place a satellite in orbit. Japan's NHK news reported, "The country says the satellite is on the right track and transmitting to the earth songs hailing its founder Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il, the current leader, at a frequency of 470 megahertz." In spite of these claims there is no evidence that any satellite ever reached orbit.
Sources speculated that the missile fell into the ocean after the third stage failed to ignite. Trajectory of the missile was pointed directly at the Hawaiian Islands. With a properly functioning third stage, the Taepodong-2 is believed to have a trajectory of 4,500 miles--the distance from the launch pad to Honolulu. North Korea has claimed a trajectory as long as 9,320 miles. The accuracy of the missile is unknown.
North Korea's first test of the Taepodong 2 missile failed July 5, 2006 about 45 seconds into the flight. The missile fell into the East Sea/Sea of Japan. Japanese military sources claimed the trajectory was aimed over Japan at Hawaii.
North Korea conducted a successful nuclear test May 25 and has recently tested several short-range missiles. There is no evidence that North Korea has developed the ability to mount a nuclear warhead on any of its missiles.
(NOTE: Most trajectories leading from NK to Alaska would pass over Russian territory at several points. Unless the NKs were going to fire into China, almost every other trajectory passes over Japan. If one accepts the NKs firing over Japan as a given--then the question is: Why target Hawaii rather than aiming for the open ocean between Hawaii and Alaska or the open ocean southwest of Hawaii? There are endless reams of anaysis of NKs verbal threats. It is time to stop being blind to this physical threat.)
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