North Korea has launched seven missiles into the Sea of Japan in the last two days, prompting international outcry and calls by Tokyo for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, the Washington Post reported today (see GSN, June 30).
Six missiles were launched over the course of four hours early yesterday morning, according to the Post, with a seventh fired today.
However, a long-range Taepodong 2 potentially capable of reaching U.S. territory appeared to fail after 35 seconds. The other six missiles were all short- or medium-range systems, Japanese and U.S. officials said. The Taepondong 2 came closest to Japanese territory, falling within 312 miles of the coastal city of Niigata, the Post reported.
Tokyo announced it would bar entry to a North Korean ferry operating between the two countries and banned North Korean officials, ship crews and flights from entering Japan.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said Japan would submit a draft resolution in the afternoon.
“We hope we have a strong and unanimous signal from the council that this kind of behavior is unacceptable,” said Bolton.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said more tests were anticipated and called them an affront to the international community.
“This is not a U.S.-North Korean matter, and we’re not going to let the leader of North Korea transform it into that,” said Snow.
China’s and South Korea’s reactions were more subdued.
“We are seriously concerned with the situation which has already happened. We hope that all the relevant sides can remain calm and restrained and do more things which are conducive to peace and stability … and not take any actions to escalate and complicate the situation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said on the ministry’s Web site.
South Korean officials condemned the launches but said they were still “carefully considering” their earlier threats to cut off aid in the event of a test.
Elsewhere, the NATO North American Council today issued a statement expressing “grave concern.” It called the tests a “serious threat to the region and the international community at large” requiring “a firm response.”
Analysts and some diplomats said the tests could undermine the six-nation nuclear talks, stalled since September.
“The U.S. has called for North Korea to return to the six-party talks, but after what the North Koreans have done, the talks have in effect fallen apart,” said Terumasa Nakanishi, a Kyoto University expert on North Korea.
Military experts said Pyongyang’s economic problems and a 1999 moratorium on ballistic missile launches may have set its missile program back.
“The failure of the Taepodong 2 shows that they are still at the first stage of their next major breakthrough in missile technology. That doesn’t mean their other missiles aren’t dangerous, but this one is not ready,” said Motoaki Kamiura, director of Tokyo’s Japan Military Affairs Research Center.
However, the launches did prove that North Korea still has missiles capable of reaching all of Japan and South Korea.
“Clearly the Taepodong 2 was not ready, but North Korea was sending a message,” said Kim Woo Sang, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Yonsei University. “They wanted to demonstrate that while they might not be a threat to the U.S. as the failure of Taepodong 2 shows, they can still absolutely be a threat to South Korea and Japan” (Washington Post, July 5).
Countering other news reports, the head of Russia’s General Staff, General Yuri Baluevsky, said yesterday that North Korea launched a total of 10 missiles, Reuters reported.
“Ten rockets were launched. According to one set of data, they were rockets of different classes. According to another set of data, they were all intercontinental. I can only say what class they were after receiving the technical data,” he said (Reuters, July 5).
Meanwhile, Washington was prepared to use its limited missile defense system to shoot down the Taepodong 2 if it appeared headed toward U.S. or allied territory, the Washington Times reported today.
Most countries issue international notices to airmen and mariners when missile or space launches are carried out, according to the Times, but North Korea does not follow such protocols (Bill Gertz, Washington Times, July 5).
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy to six-party nuclear talks, is scheduled to depart for consultations in Asia today, Yonhap news agency reported.
Meanwhile, South Korean presidential assistant Song Min-soon arrived in Washington yesterday and said he would meet U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today and tomorrow.
“The South Korean government has already indicated that the people will no longer support aid to North Korea in case of a missile launch,” Song said.
The missiles were launched within a few minutes of the lift-off of the U.S. space shuttle Discovery and as the United States celebrated its Independence Day.
“We do consider it provocative behavior,” said Hadley (Yonhap news agency, July 4).
Hadley said U.S. President George W. Bush, celebrating Independence Day and his 60th birthday two days early, was briefed each time a missile was launched, Agence France-Presse reported.
“We’ve been doing a lot of preparations for this. It wasn’t that he was surprised. I think his instinct is this just shows the defiance of the international community by North Korea,” said Hadley.
The White House said North Korea had violated a missile test moratorium and perhaps also the September 2005 agreement at the six-party talks.
Mike Cuckarek, a spokesman for the U.S. Northern Command, said there was “no threat to the U.S. or its territories” (Agence France-Presse I/Yahoo!News, July 5).
Analysts said the test-launches were aimed at forcing Washington to hold direct talks with Pyongyang, AFP reported today.
“It wanted to shock the United States, attract U.S. attention and force Washington to change its policy toward Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and missiles,” said Paik Hak Soon of the Sejong Institute.
“In the short term, the United States will angrily react to the launch but it will see the only long-term solution is direct talks with North Korea because it has no effective countermeasures,” Paik said (Park Chan-Kyong, Agence France-Presse/Manila Times, July 5).
While Beijing was reportedly angered by the tests, analysts said it is unlikely to endorse a tough response, AFP reported today.
“China is extremely upset over the behavior of North Korea, this is something that China did not want to see,” Shi Yinhong, director of the USA Research Center at the People’s University of China, told AFP.
“China will adopt stronger measures than before to bring more pressure on North Korea, but these actions will be limited,” said Shi (Agence France-Presse II/Manila Times, July 5).