North Korea garnered some recent attention with satellite photography that reveals a soon-to-be-launched rocket. The North Korean government says that the rocket will serve the purpose of transporting a commercial satellite sometime between April 4th-8th, but U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that “this technology is intended as a mask for the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile.” The suspicion is that this launch is in fact a test that will help Pyongang move toward a capability to launch a nuclear warhead.
While the U.S. government isn’t buying the satellite story, at present there are no plans to block the missile launch. Japan, however, isn’t taking any chances and has deployed three destroyers to intercept any missiles that fly into Japanese airspace. The United States also sent some destroyers into the Sea of Japan, but unless the missile appears to be headed toward Hawaii, Gates has noted that the United States is “not prepared to do anything about it.” On the plus side, North Korea’s missiles just don’t fly that far. (Yet.)
Gates noted that North Korea’s launch would indicate that Kim Jong-il’s regime is unmoved by the six-party talks meant to deter his nuclear ambitions. He also noted that the timing – just two months into Obama’s office – essentially turns that missile into a symbolic thumb-at-the-nose (or other gesticulating finger) toward the Non-Proliferation Treaty member overtures (most notably the U.S., Japan and Russia) to curb North Korea’s nuclear development. North Korea pulled out of that treaty in 2003.
Said Gates, “If this is Kim Jong-il’s welcoming present to a new president, launching a missile like this and threatening to have a nuclear test, I think it says a lot about the imperviousness of this regime in North Korea to any kind of diplomatic overtures.”
While Obama has focused on diplomacy as a means to curb international nuclear proliferation, Gates noted that talks aren’t getting us anywhere with nations like Iran and North Korea – neither of whom are lining up to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Gates feels that punitive action in the form of economic sanctions is more likely to be effective than trying to talk it out. South Korea, however, disagrees with strong-arming the Pyongyang government, and China has in the past intervened on North Korea’s behalf to prevent these kinds of sanctions.
North Korea did a similar missile test in 2006. Because the North Korean media is strictly controlled by the government, it’s very difficult for journalists to get candid interviews of North Korean citizens to determine what the cultural barometer is around this kind of missile test. However, given the propaganda art and the few documentaries that have been done, the general consensus of the North Korean citizenry seems to be that they have every right to defend themselves along the lines of other nuclear-empowered nations, and that the United States (and others) should butt out and let them run their country as they see fit.
From our end, the T-shirts tend to take a much more tongue-in-cheek approach to Kim Jong-il’s desire to put North Korea on the map as a nuclear powerhouse. And so we award a Fantasy T-Wearer award to Robert Gates this week, with the Atomic Superman T-shirt above.