Belaboring the Obvious

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I Have This Very Hard Time Finding Humor...

... in very serious attempts to start wars and/or other international conflicts by people who ought to know better. The latest attempt is by a couple of Clintonites, William Perry and Ashton Carter, in Thursday's Washington Post, hoping everyone will take their suggestion that we ought to bomb the shit out of a missile test site in North Korea because the North Koreans want to do a missile test.

Perry and Carter are pretty much full of shit. Here's why. As of 2003, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) reports that the possible range of a three-stage Tae'poDong2 is about 4000-4300 km with the lightest possible warhead (about 380 kg, or about 3650-3750 km with a 700-1000 kg warhead).

In that 4000km range, the North Koreans would be able to hit the very outer islands in the Aleutian chain.

Second, we have no direct and verifiable data to suggest that North Korea now has nuclear weapons. We know they want them, we know they have enough stored used fuel rods, and we know they probably have enough technical skill to produce one. We also know that they have, for lack of resources, proceeded on every technical program much more slowly than anticipated. It took them almost twenty-five years to have a reactor in place sufficient to begin a plutonium extraction program--and that was using a British nuclear plant design from the `50s. So, we don't have evidence of nuclear weapons (no tests by NK) and the likelihood of NK putting a fledgling design nuclear warhead on a missile test would be virtually zero. Why would NK risk exposure of their program, or having an unexploded warhead fall into the hands of its adversaries (we have the submarines to recover such an item, NK does not)? Why would they put a warhead on a missile going 4000 km away, where they would not be able to monitor test results of the nuclear explosion? Hence, no direct nuclear intent in this missile test.

Third, the North Koreans share information and parts with Iran. The Tae'poDong2 is similar to the Iranian Shahab-5. Wouldn't it be of advantage to know what technology has been shared with Iran?

Fourth, North Korea's simply testing a missile without warhead would give us far more intelligence on where they are now in that program, but that's the real rub in this--letting the test proceed gives many countries in the region and around the world access to the same data we would have on their progress. Everyone would know where North Korea might be at in their ballistic missile program. If their launch plunked down far short of the anticipated and published range, we'd all know they were not the threat that had been previously advertised.

Fifth, note, too, that Perry and Carter are recommending destroying this test rocket on its launch site, without any verification that this is an imminent threat (North Korea has tried, and failed, in the past to launch a satellite with such equipment). We can launch satellites, but North Korea cannot? Can we test military missiles (which we do regularly), but North Korea cannot? That's a great diplomatic gift to them. Moreover, this sudden suggestion that we destroy the rocket on its launch site obviates the necessity of using a questionable missile defense system (which Perry, and possibly Carter, helped to continue to fund) and running the risk of that system failing--as all test data to date suggests it would in real-world conditions.

One can trust the reputations of Perry and Carter if one wishes--they're just part of the military-industrial complex as far as I'm concerned, no matter what President they worked for--or one can trust the facts. We are in no imminent threat, in any sense of the word, by this missile test (nor is Japan, for all their squawking about it--unless the missile breaks up unexpectedly over their territory). None. We stand to gain much more information by letting it proceed without comment--if our real interests were to gain information, instead of using this test for political purposes.

There are some very real technical questions which haven't been answered by revealed technical data thus far--about the mass/length ratio and how stable the three-stage missile is in flight because of that, and if reinforcements have been made which would decrease fuel load (and, therefore, decrease payload and/or range), but which would be answered by careful observation of this test flight.

But, as long as these things are not known, the administration can continue to paint North Korea as a dangerous boogeyman, which can then be used to promote continued funding of missile defense, which, thus far, has benefitted no one but its contractors and their stockholders.

If the test results are generally known, however, everyone would have a good idea of where North Korea stood technically, and, from that, their immediate threat could be rationally assessed. Which just might show that all the hoopla has been just that.

We've chosen to portray North Korea as an extreme threat--mostly because of this missile business and the North Korean nuclear program--without much evidence, and now we're trying to avoid the accumulation of any real evidence. Does that have a whiff of self-interest? I thought so. One of the things that always struck me as questionable was the Bush administration's interest in pushing selective information about North Korea. One of those bits of information was that North Korea was spending 30% of its GNP on defense. That was supposed to get everyone to pee their pants. Okay, what was North Korea's GNP at the time?

$22 billion per year. Ipso facto, North Korea spends about $6 billion on defense.

Now, yes, North Korea is living in isolation. That means that information doesn't come into the country much more than information gets out. It's a desperately poor place. It's run by people who think they are the saviors of their people, but have no more sense of the real world or history than George W. Bush.

But, mention nuclear weapons and North Korea in the same sentence, and every American that doesn't understand the situation gets a little damp in the panties. And yet, even the most ardent and loyal defense people in North Korea know that any attempt to use a nuclear weapon against the U.S. or U.S. allies would result in annihilation of their country. Common sense would suggest, then, that North Korea mostly wants a nuclear weapon or two to keep the U.S. from invading them (and who would not come away from negotiations with John Bolton thinking they were about to be invaded).

Is all this because North Korea has become increasingly belligerent toward South Korea of late? Nope. The South Koreans were well along in their so-called "Sunshine Dialogue" with the North, until the Bushies put a crowbar into those talks.

A lot of this saber-rattling with regard to North Korea is about propping up funding for the National Missile Defense system. That's why the first quasi-operational missile defense system was installed in Alaska--because that's the closest to North Korea we could get and still be on our own territory, no matter if North Korea could get a missile close to Alaska.

North Korea is a desperately poor country run by Moe, Larry, Curly, Curly Joe and Shemp. They have their pride, misplaced though it is. If they were even stupider than the world thinks they are, and decided to put a missile on the launch site with a nuclear warhead on it, the U.S. could probably drop a laser-guided rock on it and set their program back by a decade.

So, who benefits by turning this into an international crisis? U.S. defense contractors, no doubt. And the neo-cons.

And, maybe the North Koreans, too. I'll bet they've been watching "The Mouse That Roared" with Korean subtitles for years now, looking for hints, devious and sneaky slant-eyed Asiatics that they are.


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