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North Korea plans missile launch

Last week, North Korea announced its intention to prepare and launch a satellite, using a two- or three-stage Taepodong-2 missile. The missile is said to have a maximum range of 4300 kilometers, according to publishing company Jane’s Information Group, and has the ability to carry both conventional and military payloads. According to the BBC, previous tests of the Taepodong-2 in 2006 ended in failure as the missile crashed within 45 seconds of launch.

Defense officials in the United States and across the East Asian region are concerned, however, as they view the satellite launch to be a smokescreen for circumventing a military missile test ban North Korea agreed to as part of six-party talks on denuclearization. Additionally, the successful development of this missile would place a number of American bases and allied populations — including the state of Alaska — within the missile’s range, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Accurate information on the Taepodong-2’s capabilities is hard to come by, as the missile is both classified and still under development.
Only days prior to North Korea’s announcement of the missile launch, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear in a conversation with South Korea’s foreign minister Yu Myung-hwan that she did not support the region’s decision to launch the missile, calling it “unhelpful” and “provocative,” according to a Feb. 24 article in The New York Times. She also stated that such action would be viewed by the Obama administration as “antagonistic.”

North Korea has responded to allegations made by the U.S. government by stating its right to develop a peaceful space program, a term the republic first used to justify its testing of the first such missile, the Taepodong-1 ballistic missile, in 1998.

The announcement, a world away, does not seem to concern most Carnegie Mellon students.

Philip Brown, a first-year general CIT student from Virginia, stated that “the missile poses little threat to the United States, as Alaska is at its most extreme range … and that distance most likely makes the missile’s payload lighter than normal, as well as reduces its accuracy.”

Christopher Tomaszewski, a first-year in general CIT and dual citizen who has lived in Eastern Europe, agreed, arguing that the United States and its allies already have some counter-measures. “In Poland, despite being an unpopular proposal, America previously received permission to deploy an ABS [anti-ballistic missile] system for defense against non-ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] missiles. Such systems have also been deployed in East Asia. At the beginning of the Iraq war, these systems shot down 100 percent of the 11 missiles that were fired.”

Students familiar with the region report that those closer to the situation are understandably more concerned.

Risa Masuda, a junior business administration major, speaking on reactions in Japan, said that “people in Japan are concerned with the harm that could happen if something went wrong with ongoing negotiations and North Korea had developed a missile that was capable of hitting targets within the country.”

Ultimately, North Korea’s true motivations in this launch remain unclear. What is certain, however, is that a launch at this time, as Clinton has clearly stated, the Obama administration does not approve of North Korea’s use of such tactics.