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September 2, 2006
North Korea Understands The Significance

The US successfully tested its missile-defense system again this week, and this time it specifically used North Korean missile technology in its test. The North Koreans did not miss the significance of the results:

The U.S. missile defense system yesterday shot down an incoming dummy warhead simulating the last-stage trajectory of a North Korean Taepodong-2 missile, a milestone that U.S. officials expect to counter critics of earlier tests.

It was the first time a dummy North Korean missile was intercepted, and the sixth successful intercept since 1999, said officials from the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency.

"What we did today is a huge step in terms of our systematic approach to continuing to field, continuing to deploy and continuing to develop a missile defense system for the United States, for our allies, our friends, our deployed forces around the world," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency.

He said there is "good chance" the system would be successful against a Taepodong-2 launched from North Korea.

Pyongyang test-fired a Taepodong-2 missile on July 4th, heightening tensions in the Pacific and raising fears that North Korea could now strike the US mainland. The TD-2 was intended to land outside of Hawaiian waters as a message to the US of Kim Jong-Il's reach in the Pacific, but it failed within the first minute of its flight. North Korea says it intends to keep testing the TD-2, regardless of the outcry in the region.

That led to the increased efforts to demonstrate the futility of the TD-2 project. After a successful intercept at or approaching the apogee of a multi-stage missile in June, critics complained that such an intercept would not adequately stop the warhead of an ICBM from wreaking havoc. This test appears to counter that criticism. The defensive system destroyed the warhead itself, a feat better than its design intended, and it shows that the US can stop at least a random missile shot, if necessary.

North Korea reacted as one would expect: unhappily. The demonstration of our missile defense "clearly shows that it is the U.S. which is increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and threatening war against our country." Kim pledged to continue work on his TD-2 to increase DPRK's "self-defensive deterrent", which in Orwellian Newspeak means offensive nuclear weapons capabilities.

Japan, meanwhile, is also discussing an end to official pacifism in the face of North Korean threats:

Shinzo Abe, the nationalist politician who is expected to become Japan’s next prime minister, said Friday that Japan should revise the pacifist Constitution imposed on it by the United States.

He made the statement as he formally declared his candidacy for the presidency of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, a post that would give him the prime ministership. Mr. Abe, the chief cabinet secretary, also said Japan should seek a larger role in the world and further strengthen its alliance with the United States.

“As the next L.D.P. president, I’d like to take the lead to put revision of the Constitution on the political agenda,” Mr. Abe said at a regional party convention in Hiroshima.

“I’d like to draft a new Constitution with my own hands,” he added.

The current war-renouncing Constitution, which was drafted by Americans during their occupation of the country after World War II, does not allow Japan to possess a real military.

This represents the real threat to Kim in the region: a re-armed Japan. It's one of two ace cards held by the West in dealing with Kim Jong-Il, the other being Taiwan, which is more of a pressure point for China. Neither wants to see Japan off its American leash, and China will be forced to exert its influence over its intransigent ally.

It would appear that George Bush has taken a page from the playbook of Ronald Reagan in dealing with North Korea. He has insisted on multilateral talks and offered some incentives for engagement. However, he refuses to trust Kim as a direct negotiating partner, and instead has worked to negate the threat through defensive measures. Once we establish that Kim's missiles will gain him nothing, Kim will have to build something to overcome the defenses. However, Pyongyang has almost run out of resources and almost assuredly will collapse, even if they avoid an arms escalation. If they try to surpass our missile defenses, Kim's regime will crumble from internal rot and a catastrophic economic situation.

In the meantime, the missile defense test sends a message to the other end of the Axis of Evil. The Iranians may be spending a lot of time and resources on a missile system that will be obsolete before they can tip them with the nukes they're pursuing. A sanctions regime would force them into the same bankruptcy as North Korea, but their restless populace will never let it get that far.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that further tests will come in December, and will include countermeasures to determine whether the interceptor can differentiate between them. Critics warn that this does not mean that the missile-defense system is 100% capable, and of course they're right. However, we would have been much closer to that state had we not taken a 10-year break from developing this program in the 1990s.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 2, 2006 7:50 AM

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