On December 12, 2012 -- the 28th anniversary of its pledge to join to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- North Korea successfully launched a satellite into orbit aboard an Unha-3 rocket.
After the launch, two months later, on February 12, 2013, North Korea tested another nuclear weapon -- this time on the 10th year anniversary of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Administration] finding the country in noncompliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT]. This launch was noteworthy in that the orbit was a southern polar one, which can place an object over the central United States. So, too, the nuclear weapons test, a 3-4 kiloton blast, was consistent with the development of a small nuclear weapons specifically designed to create an electro-magnetic pulse.
As for the dates, joining the NPT was long associated with keeping a country's nuclear energy program within accepted international boundaries. But North Korea, similar to Iraq, Libya and now Iran, used the NPT and the IAEA inspection process to set up parallel efforts to pretend compliance with the anti-nuclear weapon strictures of the treaty while at the same time surreptitiously developing nuclear weapons.
Similarly, the findings of the IAEA in 2002 were the culmination of a series of concerns with the North Korean nuclear program which had been largely camouflaged by the 1995 Agreed Framework agreement with the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Under this deal, initially negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter and North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung, Pyongyang would get two new nuclear reactors; suspend, and then halt, its nuclear weapons work, and willingly comply with the provisions of the NPT.
Following the December flight test and the February weapons test, most analysts concluded that the North Korean capability to attack the United States -- which the regime has repeatedly threatened to do -- was largely a bluff. Countless analysts wandered into a maze of technical jargon about how Pyongyang was not yet able "adequately" and "fully" to test a warhead and missile to "demonstrate" a threatening military capability. Such assessments ignored that other nuclear powers had developed such technological prowess without testing, and that North Korea was considerably farther along in its technological capability than it had been just a year earlier.
The most striking and common error, however, was a two-fold refrain: first, that North Korea was simply defending itself from a hostile United States -- an echo of what the regime itself was claiming. Simply stated, the refrain went, North Korea had grievances against the United States, and its nuclear weapons and missiles were solely for its own security. The second part of the refrain went: even if North Korea should launch such missiles at us, we would easily see where such a missile originated and take massive retaliatory action, the threat of which safely ensures that no such missile would ever be launched by North Korea in the first place.
Most analysts, while noting that the "unpredictable" behavior of the new leader in North Korea was somewhat unnerving, expressed the hope and belief that that China would use sufficient pressure on the regime in Pyongyang to rein in its militaristic impulses -- while simultaneously noting how difficult it was for China to do so because China did not have all that much leverage with North Korea, after all.
Unfortunately, there are five reasons for North Korea's allegedly "crazy" behavior:
First, the regime evidently wants to pick a fight with the United States -- move rockets into launch position, appear to be ready to test nuclear weapons -- on purpose. North Korea apparently does not care about "not being isolated." North Korea apparently does not want to trade its nuclear arsenal for more food, oil or investment. By making the United States offer to come back to the six party talks and even hint at humanitarian assistance, they have seized the agenda -- which worked so successful for Iran -- to buy time and make the agenda their own.
As a bonus, with its "erratic" behavior North Korea even induced some Washington analysts into a state of alarm that had them calling for US troops to leave the Korean peninsula. One pundit argued this would improve "the security situation" because then North Korea would invest more in its own defense.
Who then would supply the missing extended US nuclear umbrella?
A Western retreat -- U.S. withdrawal from the region -- is exactly what North Korea and China want, as recently expressed by a Chinese defense white paper and senior PRC official. Further, Pyongyang knows that a US troop presence in the Republic of Korea makes any North Korean invasion a losing proposition. With the US gone, North Korea sees its nuclear arsenal as the trump card preventing the United States from coming to the defense of the ROK when the North invades.
Second, the North's regime always tries to batter a new South Korean government. The South's President has just taken office. The North uses its harsh rhetoric and military deployments to put pressure on the new government in two ways -- if the government talks tough and threatens a severe retaliation to any "provocation," the liberals in Seoul will condemn their government for risking war.
Conversely, if South Korea takes a conciliatory stance and offers to talk and provide assistance, Pyongyang wins the argument: it can claim that Seoul is the supplicant and the North is the victim.
So poking its nuclear missile fingers in the eyes of South Korea's government works to Pyongyang's advantage.
Third, the regime is also helping achieve China's objectives. The China's leadership can always claim it has less influence over the regime in Pyongyang than everyone assumes, and that they are really, really, really trying to keep its crazy North Koreastein uncle "in the attic."
But their creation -- North Koreanstein -- did not just spontaneously get off the table and run out the laboratory door. The "escape" was not an accident.
Just think. With North Koreanstein running around outside the lab, China then can act the hero. It can plead for calm, and promise to try to control its crazy creation.
And it can urge a return to "negotiations" to "resolve peacefully" the issues at hand.
Of course, negotiations mean the North must be a party to any agreement, a stipulation that renders denuclearization off the table. And given the Swiss cheese nature of all sanctions against North Korea, China is not about seriously to curtail any aid or economic investment that might actually effect the actions of North Korea.
So on cue, North Korea's harsh rhetoric is put on the diplomatic shelf, the parades celebrating the founder's rule continue, and the rope-a-dope process of "crisis, conflict, demands for concessions, pledges to negotiate, and return to business as usual" goes on.
Fourth, the nuclear and missile tests are not just about North Korea. They are about Iran, as well. Even as North Korea was pledging a moratorium on testing the Musadan missile, Iran -- in a show of having one's missiles and eating them, too -- was testing that very missile. Iran is evidently paying Pyongyang for missile tests, and it would be plausible that Iran is also receiving help with nuclear weapons. After all, during such tests in the North, the mullahs and top Iranian military leaders have repeatedly been present.
The Iranians are not on vacation. The North Korean tests are thus a form of "auto show," as they demonstrate their WMD wares to the mullahs still flush with oil cash. It is not a coincidence that the debris from the North Korean rocket tests revealed Chinese technological assistance, as well as a high level of supposedly indigenous North Korean capability.
Iran knows this, as do Moscow and Peking. Rockets sell, North Korea needs cash. Better rockets bring in more cash. North Korea is building better rockets.
All this helps not only Iran, it also secures the objectives of Russia and China.
Fifth, and most importantly, the North Korean tests in fact reveal a very serious and growing threat to the United States. All the technical clap-trap from self-appointed non-Korean experts is just that -- clap-trap. Talk about shields, sheeting, stresses, temperature excursions, vibration is beside the point. The North is making progress toward its goal of being able to deliver a nuclear warhead surreptitiously to the United States, probably in the mode of an electromagnetic pulse [EMP], which is an existential threat to our survival. That is the significance of the North Korean tests, not whether or not we are going to see a replica of the Johnson Space Center or Cape Kennedy built on the banks of the Yalu River.
Let us look at the evidence about EMP.
China, South Korea and Russia have all told US officials, especially the Congressional mandated EMP Commission, that Pyongyang is developing a sophisticated capability to launch such weapons against the United States and received significant help from the outside, (including, ironically, from China and Russia), exactly as highlighted by the 1998 "Commission on Ballistic Missile Threats to the United States."
We also know that Iran tested rocket launches off of a barge in the Caspian, and detonated two dummy warheads in an EMP mode. We know there is considerable work between Iran, North Korea, China, Russia and Pakistan in this entire area of missiles and nuclear weapons. What more do we need to know?
Pyongyang launched its December rocket to its south late last year. This space launch vehicle fired by North Korea put a satellite into a southern orbit, and, with some modifications, could have placed it over the central United States.
As the Defense Intelligence Agency has warned, Pyongyang may have accomplished the feat of making nuclear warheads small enough to fit onto such a missile or launch vehicle. If detonated high over the United States at an altitude of some 70-100 kilometers, a special-effects nuclear warhead could effect an electromagnetic pulse that would shut down a large portion of the electrical grid in the United States, creating casualties in the tens of millions.
The warhead would not have to travel through the atmosphere; thus shielding would not be required. The stress of such a launch would thus be minimal. There also would be no debris, and thus nuclear forensics would not be able to determine the origin of the warhead. And if the launch point were in the huge maritime region off the coasts of the United States, there would be no "return address" from which to identify the attacker.
It is not as if we have not known of this threat for some time -- at least since 1998.
In 2009, Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman also warned in their book, "The Nuclear Express," that, "The revelations from the BBC China…within Libya…confirmed the opaque role of North Korea in the world's new triangle trade, shuttling gas cylinders made…in Pakistan, filled with uranium hexafluoride in North Korea, then delivered to Libya…[which]…opened wide a window into nuclear Iran."
Too many assume that if the US just "changes its policy" to "more friendly," this can all go away. But none of these acts is the result of a "hostile US policy," as many analysts seem to assume, most recently in an April 15 Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Strategic Security Blog. Such commentary just reinforces the arguments used by the North itself, and its allies, including Iran, China and Russia, which all give credibility to a false narrative undoubtedly designed to justify the aggression and terrorism of which this coalition is guilty.
Missiles and nuclear warheads are the emerging weapons of choice, the modern battering ram to remove US security guarantees from the Western Pacific and Middle East, and with that removal, to allow the rise of new totalitarian powers, including China and its allies such as Iran and North Korea -- to the detriment of freedom and liberty everywhere.
HASC Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers, in an April 24, 3013, letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, warned that "withdrawing [our] missile defenses from Asia in exchange for support from" China to lean on North Korea" would not find any support in the House military committee.
In short, retreat from global threats is just that, retreat. It does not give us security, and it will not give us peace. There is no substitute or escape from our constitutional duty of "providing for the common defense."