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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Sinsonbi [Sinsong-ni ??]

On Monday 24 February 2003, the eve of Roh Moo-hyun's inauguration as South Korea's new president, North Korea conducted a so-called missile test. Believed to be Chinese-made Silkworms, the missiles are thought to have been launched on two occasions in the hours between early afternoon and evening of Monday from a launch site in Sinsonbi on the east coast of North Korea. The missile reportedly dropped into the Sea of Japan about 60 kilometers away from the launch site.

A North Korean official attending the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Kuala Lumpur admitted that its military test-fired a missile "for safety reasons," but refused to elaborate. Japan Defense Agency sources stated that North Korea launched two missiles, and one of them ended in failure. Initial response by countries in the region was to downplay the launch with China electing to ignore it.

The U.S. categorized it as a "bizarre" action. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the missile launch fit a pattern in which North Korea "engages in rather bizarre actions and then expects the world to pay them or negotiate with them to give them something in exchange for stopping what they shouldn't have done in the first place." Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was in South Korea for the inauguration, called it a "fairly innocuous kind of test."

Japan also downplayed the launch. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and Maritime Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Koichi Furusho both stated that they believed the launch was a part of routine military drills. Fukuda said that Tokyo learned of the launch through intelligence-gathering efforts on Monday (media reporting also said that Japan received no advance information from the U.S. "which could instantly have detected such a launch by early-warning satellites") However, neither Prime Minister Koizumi nor key members of his Cabinet, including Fukuda himself, were informed of the incident until Tuesday morning, as Defense Agency officials had apparently dismissed the scenario as nothing more than a routine drill. Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said the action would not violate the joint declaration signed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in September 2002 if the missile is ground-to-ship as reported. "The declaration refers to ballistic missiles," she said.

Although some sources stated the North Korean missile shoot was a scheduled test, it was merely the next step in Pyongyang's calculated plan to keep the region on edge, with hopes that influential nearby countries will press the U.S. to bilaterally address the overriding nuclear/non-aggression treaty issue. Occurring just a few hours prior to President Roh's inauguration, it was an opportune time for North Korea to gain global attention and press its cause before an international gathering of senior diplomats. If nothing else another launch will keep the situation in the limelight, allowing Pyongyang's forces to train in advance of the USS Carl Vinson's deployment off the Korean Peninsula. North Korea will create other incidents to maintain world attention as the U.S. inches closer to war in Iraq.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:39:15 ZULU