2006-06-27

The Leader's Illustrious Choreography

A North Korean missile launch is looking less and less likely.
We have no idea, really, whether North Korea is preparing a missile. Or what that missile is capable of doing.

The hype kicked into high gear when the New York Times claimed that the Norks "completed fueling a long-range ballistic missile" over the weekend. But the report is getting fishier by the second. The Norks generally rely on a highly corrosive gasoline-kerosene mix for their missile fuel, and an oxidizer containing nitric acid. It's nasty, metal-eating stuff. And once fueled up, the missile has to be launched quickly -- two or three days, I've been told -- or else the missile is basically ruined.

It's now been four days. And there's been no launch. Which means it's becoming increasingly unlikely that a missile has been fueled. So much for Perry's demand "to strike the [missile] if North Korea refuses to drain the fuel out."

And, of course, there may not be an ICBM at all. Remember, the North Koreans have launched exactly one intermediate-range ballistic missile, in 1998. The thing -- a combination of smaller, Nodong and Scud missiles -- went about 2,000 km or so. Now, U.S. intelligence assumes the Norks have been working on strapping together more Nodongs and Scuds (or, at least, their engines) for an ICBM -- something that can reach three to five times further, and hit the U.S. But no one has actually seen the weapon. Even how many the stages the mystery missile has in unknown; some folks say two, others say three.
On top of this, the "Norks" (as the DefenseTech guys like to call them) have a history of staging shows for the the benefit of our satellites. Remember the viewing stands they were constructing to observe an imminent test of a Nuclear Weapon?

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