Monthly Archives: March 2009

Ginormous Golf Ball, Ctd.

William Cole of the _Honolulu Advertiser_ is still on “the story”: of the floating missile defense radar at Pearl Harbor. “Nathan Hodge”: spotted “this one”:

bq. The 280-foot-tall radar platform is undergoing $34 million in repairs here. Officials with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, which oversees the SBX, yesterday said work is continuing with scheduled shipyard activities. It referred all other questions to the Pentagon.

OK, so it’s not just there for the weather.

On Medvedev’s Mind

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev tells America “what concerns him”:

* Euro-GMD.

* NATO expansion.

* Lack of Adapted CFE ratification.

He also tells America what he likes:

* The Sochi “roadmap.”

* The resumption of arms reduction talks.

* “Collective solutions to the problems facing Afghanistan,” whatever that means.

* Creating a new international reserve currency.

Well, two or three out of seven is a start.

Not mentioned anywhere: Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

“Better hit that reset button some more”:

ICG: Be Mellow

The International Crisis Group tells us “not to overreact”: to North Korea’s space launch, saying this would “promote hardliners in Pyongyang at a time when the North is facing strains over succession issues.”

bq. If the missile launch goes forward, domestic political pressures, particularly in the U.S. and Japan, will push for strong punitive measures. A tough response such as using missile defences against the rocket might please domestic constituencies but history has shown that pressure alone is very unlikely to influence Pyongyang’s behaviour in a positive way. It would likely result in the demise of the talks to end North Korea’s nuclear program and also worsen tensions on the Korean peninsula and promote hardliners in Pyongyang at a time when the North is facing strains over succession issues. In the worst case, it could risk a war with potentially devastating damage to South Korea, Japan and the world economy.

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has got it covered:

WALLACE: The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Keating, says that we are, quote, “fully prepared to shoot down this missile.”

Are there any circumstances under which we will do that?

GATES: I think if we had an aberrant missile, one that was headed for Hawaii – that looked like it was headed for Hawaii or something like that, we might consider it. But I don’t think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point.

WALLACE: What if it were headed for the West Coast, for Alaska?

GATES: Well, we – I don’t think we believe this missile can do that.

WALLACE: And what about the Japanese? Obviously, they have some of our technology. Do we believe they’re going to prepare to shoot this down?

GATES: Well, again, based on what I read in the newspapers, what the Japanese are saying is that the – if that missile fails and it looks like it’s going to drop debris on Japan, that they might take some action.

WALLACE: Is there – you’re basically discussing this, Mr. Secretary, as if it’s going to happen.

GATES: The launch?


GATES: I think it probably will.

WALLACE: And there’s nothing we can do about it?

GATES: Nope.

WALLACE: And what does that say to you?

GATES: Well, I would say we’re not prepared to do anything about it.

See the “whole thing”:, if you like.

“Daniel Pinkston”: is ICG’s man in Seoul.

[Update: Yes, I’ve gotten tired of pointing out that “we can’t employ missile defenses against the rocket, per se”:, only against its payload, or a falling rocket stage.]

About That Missile Assembly Building

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, what North Korea is calling “Unha-2”: is generally described in the Western media as “Taepodong-2.” (Here’s “just one example”:

This is the same name used for the missile that North Korea “unsuccessfully tested”: on July 5, 2006.

But are they really the same missile?

Here’s an orbital happy snap of the missile assembly building at the Musudan-Ri Missile Test Facility / “Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground”:, dated “June 9, 2006”:

And here’s the same thing, dated “March 29, 2009”:

It’s gotten longer, with an extension on the south end. Does that imply a taller missile?

Beats me. But it’s interesting to compare Geoff Forden’s “silhouette”: of the just-unveiled rocket with Charles Vick’s “speculative sketches”: ca. 2004. That first stage certainly looks bigger and taller than expected.

Now “they fuel”: and “we wait”:

A Modest Proposal

I somehow missed it until now, but ACA’s Peter Crail had this very “clearly written piece”: on nuclear safeguards in Iran online a few weeks ago:

bq. In the months ahead, the United States and its allies may confront a choice. Do we want to get Iran to suspend its known nuclear activities, or do we want to achieve the transparency needed to detect any unknown activities? Both are important goals in their own right, but it may be increasingly important to shift our focus to the latter.

I guess the answer to that question depends on what the U.S. brings to the table. Assuming there even is a table.

Deep Missile Defense Thought

Jeff Lewis asked me to distill something from “all”: “the”: “recent”: “TW”: “postage”: “on BMD”: for the ACW crowd.


bq. Strategic ballistic missile defense expresses a worldview in ways most weapons systems do not. It’s unilateralism. Acquiring, testing, and deploying strategic BMD just seem to fit with at-will revision of treaties like peanut butter goes with jelly. And the philosophy of an administration does more to shape BMD’s budgetary footprint than do military requirements as defined by the Armed Services or Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Read the “whole thing”:

There is no Ballistic Missile Threat

This is how I know:

1. The last administration deployed GMD.

2. GMD works.

3. A working GMD deters potential adversaries from developing ballistic missiles.

4. Therefore, potential adversaries are not developing ballistic missiles.

Any readers who are considering citing “evidence” or “facts,” please refer to the above.

Washington Post-It

I’m taking license to share something off-topic.

Out here on teh Internets, it is often observed, we are heavily reliant on Ye Olde Newspapers for source material. Now, their track record is far from lovely, especially on the “nukey”: “germy”: “chokey-to-deathy”: beat, to say nothing of the occasional “headline about missiles”: This stuff is technical, leaked intelligence is fragmentary, official sources have agendas, and so forth. But we rely on them anyhow, albeit with a critical eye. Couldn’t do without them, really.

So let us pause to acknowledge “the further downsizing”: of what should already be called the _Washington Post-It_. It’s like having a family member undergo a second or third amputation. You might not always appreciate their behavior, but it’s ever-so-painful to watch them being cut to pieces.

Batman Begins

With the much-anticipated North Korean space launch so long in coming, everyone’s running out of things to say. Glenn Kessler of the _Washington Post_ gets “a few different perspectives”: on Stephen Bosworth, everyone’s favorite part-time envoy, and his controversial part-time-itude.

“Been there”:, “done that”:

Buried at the end of the story is the good stuff, some comments from “Bruce Wayne”: himself. You read, I’ll interpret:

bq. “I will not be the day-to-day representative in the six-party negotiations,” Bosworth said, adding that he will focus more on broader policy issues, including bilateral negotiations with North Korea. “Ideally one would like to meet with the leader,” Kim Jong Il, he said. “I would like to reach higher in the foreign ministry than we have been able to.”

_Translation:_ Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan — considered, relatively speaking, the voice of reasonableness, and the most authoritative figure who routinely speaks to foreigners — has been hard to reach lately. Perhaps they want to make their point with that space launch first.

bq. The new envoy said key periods when he must be at the school are fairly predictable. “A lot of what I do for Fletcher, I can do on the road,” he said. “I don’t see a major problem. I think that it is manageable. I am fortunate in that I have extremely good people in both operations, and I will rely heavily on them.”

_Translation:_ You can send emails from the Beijing airport these days, you know, as long as you don’t mind “the Chinese reading them”:

Bosworth said it was a surprise to him when Clinton called and offered the job. By coincidence, he was visiting North Korea when rumors began circulating that he would be tapped.

“As I told the North Koreans, I had not had a single conversation with anyone in the Obama administration about anything. But as soon as I returned from Beijing, I was asked to call the State Department and ended up talking to the secretary,” he said. “She was very explicit that, in her view, this could be done in coordination with the deanship.”

_Translation:_ I’m doing this job on my own terms. I’m not planning to sit by the phone in Foggy Bottom, waiting for KJI to call, thankyouverymuch.

The “abovementioned visit was covered”: right here at your very favorite arms control/nonproliferation website. So was “the odd way that the South Korean press had the story before Bosworth did”:

bq. “We have got to deal with it,” Bosworth said, referring to the North Korean nuclear arsenal. “It has strategic urgency. You can’t simply let it cool, not only because of its implications for us but also because of its implications for countries in the area, including our two allies [Japan and South Korea]. So we’ve got to be seen to be dealing with this. That being said, it sure is not easy.”

_Translation:_ What he said.

Bonus item! The invaluable “FCNL Nuclear Calendar”: mentions an upcoming talk, involving some other folks who were in North Korea around the same time as Stephen Bosworth and the High Council of Morts:

bq. March 30 Noon-2:00 p.m., Susan Shirk and Stephan Haggard, University of California, San Diego; Marcus Noland, Peterson Institute for International Economics; and Karin Lee, National Committee on North Korea, “The Political and Economic Situation in North Korea: Implications for U.S. Policy.” University of California Washington Center, 1608 Rhode Island Ave., NW, Washington. RSVP to Joseph McGhee by “email”

Incidentally, this event is _not_ listed at the “website”: of the University of California Washington Center. C’mon, folks, get with the program…

Post Blows NK Headline

_Guest post from the Arms Control Association’s Peter Crail_

The Washington Post’s Blaine Harden wrote a decent “story”: on North Korea’s expected rocket launch and various assessments of where Pyongyang stands in being able to miniaturize a nuclear weapon for its missiles. Unfortunately, he appears to have been sabotaged by his own news editors, who ran the story with a headline way out of left field: “North Korean Nuclear Test A Growing Possibility.”

Say what?

The story doesn’t suggest anything of the sort. Here’s the thrust of the article:

bq. While North Korea has been making missiles to intimidate its neighbors for nearly half a century, what makes this launch particularly worrying is the increasing possibility — as assessed by U.S. intelligence and some independent experts — that it has built or is attempting to build nuclear warheads small enough to fit atop its growing number of missiles.

Worrisome, but nothing suggestive of an upcoming nuclear test. There is also this qualification:

bq. Experts agree that North Korea is probably years away from putting nuclear warheads on long-range missiles that could hit the United States.

Then of course there’s a discussion of the TD-2 launch, a long-range missile that could hit the United States, including:

bq. North Korea says it plans to put a communications satellite into orbit, but that claim is widely viewed as a pretext for testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Taepodong-2. The U.S. director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, told a Senate committee that a three-stage missile of this type, if it works, could strike the continental United States.

Okay, then what on earth explains the heading when the story continues on page A10: “Likelihood Grows that N. Korean Launch will be Nuclear” ?

Celebrating April Fool’s Day a bit early, I guess.

Here’s what DNI Blair also said in that “SASC testimony”: about the likelihood of the launch:

bq. I tend to believe that the — the North Koreans announced that they were going to do a space launch, and I believe that that’s what they — that’s what they intend. I could be wrong, but that would be my estimate.

And, STRATCOM Commander Kevin Chilton “provided some context”: for the launch:

SEN. REED: If it is a — turns out to be a launch of a satellite does that automatically assume that they have the capacity to launch a ballistic missile, intercontinental ballistic missile? Or is there much more work that has to be done to design a reentry vehicle and design a system that will deliver a missile?

GEN. CHILTON: Yes, Senator, there’s other elements that would have to be matured. As you point out rightly, a reentry vehicle, which is not a trivial thing. *Obviously, the difference between a reentry vehicle for a short or medium range and a long range are different because it’s a different, much hotter environment for a long range flight to survive.*

So working on the reentry vehicle and then weaponization is an issue as well.

But *we have no insights into their efforts in this area but certainly they also require a booster with that to perform its capability.*

SEN. REED: At this juncture we have their statement, which offers a range of possibilities.

And, in fact, from your previous testimony, this statement is a warning that they didn’t give prior to the previous launch, and it would be — the statement would be — ironically, I think, more consistent with the practice of nations who are preparing to launch vehicles. Is that correct?

GEN. CHILTON: You’re correct. *They did not make a similar statement last time, and today space-faring nations around the world do make announcements of their plans for launching into space.*

SEN. REED: So, again, this is hard to ascribe to North Korea, but they seem to be following, at least procedurally, what other nations do in terms of the preparation for a launch of a satellite or any type of space vehicle. Correct?

GEN. CHILTON: I would say that there’s — there may be an attempt there, not probably as specific, procedurally, as done. But I would also pile-on to General Sharp’s comment that, you know, there’s this — the U.N. resolution there that is really the big, big difference.

SEN. REED: Yeah. This might be completely inadvertently complying with “the rules of the road,” but it is something I think that should be — that you’ve noted, and I think it bears emphasis.