The U.S. is deploying ships to monitor and potentially shoot down a rocket North Korea plans to fire as soon as next week, as Japan readied its military to destroy any possible debris.
“We’ll move them around so we have the best situational awareness that we have,” Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said at a Pentagon news conference in Washington yesterday. “To the degree that those ships are capable of participating in ballistic missile defense, then we would position them to be able to do that.”
North Korea’s plan to fire the rocket between Dec. 10-22 reflects signs of growing instability in the totalitarian state, a South Korean government official said today. Leader Kim Jong Un has worked to secure his hereditary grip on power since his father Kim Jong Il died a year ago, and last month called for a crackdown on “rebellious elements.”
The regime’s priority is ensuring the success of the launch after a similar attempt exploded in April and not any possible nuclear weapons test, the official said, speaking to reporters in Seoul on condition of anonymity. Locklear yesterday made a similar point.
The launch “is intended to demonstrate to the world that they have the capacity to be able to build missiles and have the missile technology to be able to use it in ways of their choosing,” he said.
North Korea expects the rocket’s fuselage to fall about 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of South Korea and its second stage to drop into waters about 136 kilometers east of the Philippines, South Korea’s Transportation Ministry said today in an e-mailed statement, citing the North’s launch plan that was submitted to the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto today ordered Japan’s military to intercept and destroy any part of the rocket that would threaten the country, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said, adding that it isn’t expected to do so.
“We want to take every precaution against unexpected occurrences,” Fujimura told reporters in Tokyo.
North Korea’s plans coincide with South Korea’s Dec. 19 presidential election. Both ruling party candidate Park Geun Hye and opposition nominee Moon Jae In are calling for re-engagement after five years of deteriorating ties marked by atomic bomb and missile tests and two clashes in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans. Kim has shown no willingness to heed international calls to halt a nuclear weapons program.
The North made a rare admission of failure four hours after April’s botched test that scuttled a food aid deal with the U.S. Kim, who was partially educated in Switzerland and is believed to be under 30, has openly censured officials and delivered speeches on television in contrast with his father.
He has made development and foreign investment priorities to boost an economy burdened by international sanctions imposed over its nuclear program. Locklear said there’s reason to think the new leader is taking “a more rational approach” to the country’s economy.
“Generally, there’s a feeling that there might be some hope there,” he said, without elaborating.
North Korea has invested about $480 million to ready its rocket launch, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan told lawmakers this week. South Korea estimates the launch site to have cost $400 million, another $50 million for parts manufacturing operations near Pyongyang, and $30 million for the satellite itself, he said.
North Korea’s military arsenal includes Scud, Rodong and Musudan missiles. The Musudan has a range of more than 3,000 kilometers and can carry a 650 kilogram warhead, according to South Korea’s defense ministry.