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An Act of War, Not a Test

By David Warren

A nuclear missile "test" is something announced well in advance. The country planning the test gives precise information about the time and location of the launch, and the intended trajectory. Every caution is exercised, to assure no one can mistake it for a surprise attack. Foreign military professionals may even be invited to watch the exercise from the ground. They will anyway have their satellite channels tuned.

What North Korea seems about to launch is thus not a test. It has been set up in defiance of a moratorium on long-range testing the North Koreans themselves signed -- although their foreign minister disowned it in a phone conversation with Japan's foreign minister yesterday (that left the latter deeply rattled).

That moratorium has now served its purpose, from the North Korean view. It was used to cover the development of the very missile that is now on the launching pad. As after every previous exercise of diplomacy with Pyongyang, we learn they were negotiating in bad faith. Proposals for redoubled diplomatic efforts are thus utterly irrational.

By any standard of international law, the launch will be an act of war. The Americans, or anyone else with anti-missile capabilities, would thus be entirely within their rights to shoot it down. Nor would it be provocative to do so. The provocation consists in sending up the missile in the first place. (Though alas, a mind addled by "liberalism" will refuse such a logical distinction.)

The question whether it would be prudent to shoot it down -- or even obliterate the launch facility before the launch can happen -- is another matter. It is a question without a reasonable answer, because the Western intelligence agencies upon which we depend for accurate information about North Korean capabilities are utterly incompetent, and morally confused about whose interests they serve. (Look at what the CIA has been revealing about itself, recently, for confirmation of this dire view.)

Preparations for the launch of the latest, multi-stage, intercontinental, Taep'o-dong-2, from the rocket complex in Musudan-ri, were only detected in early May -- apparently not by allied intelligence, but by a commercial ground station in Japan, using imagery from an American commercial satellite.

Since then, the review of takes from satellites and spy-planes (in the absence of any plausible ground sources) has shown the North Koreans to be following their usual procedures. The missile emerged from underground facilities of unknown extent, in an advanced state of readiness. Some weeks were spent testing the electronics and fall-away systems, before loading propellant. The fuelling began last week.

On Sunday, North Korean media announced that citizens should tune in their radios and televisions for a patriotic announcement later in the day. This was assumed to be the launch signal. But nothing remarkable was announced, at the posted time of 0500 GMT. Almost certainly, this means the planned launch was scrubbed. Analysts in the U.S., Japan, and South Korea are trying to guess from the pictures what technical problems the North Koreans are having.

It is a new system, which the North Koreans have been developing in cooperation with Iran -- where an important test of a related No-dong missile was carried out in January. There are always teething problems. They are eventually resolved.

Barring a large accident, that missile will go skyward at any moment in the next few weeks. Then it can be tracked; but because we have no reliable sources within the mad world of North Korea's government, we cannot meanwhile guess where it will fall. In 1998, they sent a long-range missile right over Japan. There was no warning of that, either. The thing could have come down on Tokyo, either on purpose or by mistake.

The Taep'o-dong-2 could conceivably come down on Vancouver, Seattle, or even Los Angeles. It is designed to carry a small nuclear payload -- just a few Hiroshimas -- to such a range. Once the ayatollahs have it, they will have all Europe in range.

In addition to their work on missiles and nuclear bombs, the two regimes have another thing in common. They are both psychopathic. Their rulers routinely utter the sort of threats, that would get men not in power put under medical sedation. President Ahmadinejad likes to fantasize about the nuclear incineration of six million Jews in Israel. And Chairman Kim Il-jong has fantasies about frying the United States.

For a definitive statement on what the U.S. will actually do, after a launch, we go to the White House press secretary, Tony Snow. "We will have to respond properly and appropriately at the time," he told CNN. Asked if he could explain what that meant, he said, "No."

I will tell you what that means. It means, when a missile again flies over Japan, the U.S. State Department will deliver a protest, that will say in no uncertain terms, "We wish you hadn't done that!" And the Japanese will do no less.


© Ottawa Citizen

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