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Missile Testing

Missile Testing

Framework Funds Endangered by North Korean Missile Test, Digging

IN THE LATEST sign of trouble for the U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework, congressional appropriators on September 2 adopted amendments to the fiscal year 1999 foreign aid bill that could undermine the 1994 agreement. The House of Representatives foreign operations bill includes none of the $35 million requested by the Clinton administration to support the nuclear deal. The Senate's version of the legislation makes funding contingent on the president certifying that North Korea is neither conducting any nuclear activities outside of the nuclear accord nor selling ballistic missiles to any state-sponsor of terrorism. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has said she would advise a veto if a conference committee does not modify the bill to support the Agreed Framework.

Congress' actions reflect rising concern about the administration's North Korea policy, sparked most recently by Pyongyang's August 31 launch of a multi-stage rocket over Japan (see story) and by the North's continuing work on a massive underground construction project, potentially for use in developing nuclear weapons. According to The Washington Post on August 18, a small group of legislators had been kept apprised of the North Korean digging for several months, but most congressional leaders were not briefed until early August. A congressional staffer said that briefings by some of the president's most senior national security officials left members in both houses and both parties convinced that the administration was "in denial about a major national security problem." According to a minority staffer, the administration has lost credibility with Congress on the North Korea issue and "needs to make a stronger case for the Agreed Framework."

Even before these developments, the Agreed Framework was in jeopardy. Chronically underfinanced by its member-states, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), the consortium that is implementing the U.S. and allied side of the deal, is likely to fail for the second consecutive year to supply North Korea with the mandated 500,000 tons of fuel oil by October 20, the end of its supply year. As of mid-September only about 43 percent of the total had been delivered, and money for the remainder had yet to be pledged by KEDO's member-states. Since late April, North Korea has been venting its frustration with U.S. performance under the agreement by halting the "canning" of spent fuel from its 5-megawatt gas-graphite reactor, conducting maintenance activities at its Yongbyon reprocessing facility, and regularly threatening to withdraw from the agreement. (See ACT, June/July 1998.)

Hoping to salvage its North Korea policy, the Clinton administration announced on September 10 that two weeks of negotiations with Pyongyang in late August and early September had produced an agreement to hold additional discussions on issues of mutual concern. In particular, North Korea accepted Washington's demand to negotiate terms for on-site inspection of the underground construction site, agreed to discuss steps it must take to be removed from the State Department's list of state-sponsors of terrorism, and will return for another round of four-party talks with the United States, China and South Korea aimed at ending the state of war on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea will also allow the Department of Energy to complete the cleanup and storage of spent fuel in Yongbyon that was halted in late April, and appears to have accepted a U.S. commitment to complete the delivery of heavy fuel oil by the end of the calendar year rather than the scheduled October 20 date. Additionally, Pyongyang agreed to resume discussions about its development and proliferation of ballistic missiles and their technology. The missile talks, slated to begin October 1, will be the first such discussions since North Korea cancelled a scheduled round of missile talks in August 1997 following the defection of two diplomats.

N. Korea Launches Staged Rocket That Overflies Japanese Territory

ON AUGUST 31, North Korea launched its first multi-stage rocket in an unsuccessful attempt to place a satellite into orbit. Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed on September 4 that the three-stage system lifted off from Musudan-ri and placed into orbit a satellite that was equipped with sounding instruments and was transmitting two nationalist hymns and a Morse code slogan. While U.S. intelligence later determined that the satellite failed to achieve orbit, the launch of the rocket—which passed over Japanese territory—may nevertheless provoke a crisis in the implementation of the 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework, spur calls in the United States and Japan for the development of missile defenses, and lead to a new round of international missile proliferation.

U.S. officials, describing Pyongyang's launch as a test of its liquid-fueled, 1,500–2,000-kilometer-range Taepo Dong-1 ballistic missile, were initially unaware of the attempted satellite deployment. Speaking to reporters in Moscow on September 1, Gary Samore, senior director for non-proliferation on the National Security Council, said that "this is a serious development but certainly not one that has surprised us." Based on satellite imagery of the rocket's support scaffolding and activity at the site, Washington had reportedly anticipated the North Korean launch by as much as two weeks—enough time to position special ships and aircraft to observe the launch.

After Pyongyang announced the satellite launch, however, U.S. officials began to adjust their statements. By September 14 State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said, "We have concluded that North Korea did attempt to orbit a very small satellite. We also have concluded the satellite failed to achieve orbit."

The North Korean rocket was comprised of a No Dong first stage and a Scud second stage, with a solid rocket motor and a small satellite as the payload. A government official told The New York Times on September 15 that with a successful third stage (and an unspecified payload), the Taepo Dong-1 could travel 3,500 kilometers.

Various theories regarding the timing of the launch have been suggested, such as a ploy to extract concessions during the ongoing talks with Washington regarding the Agreed Framework and other issues, or as a salute by the North Korean military to leader Kim Jong Il, who on September 5 acceded to the highest post of the North Korean government. The launch may also have been staged as a reminder to Washington of North Korea's dissatisfaction with U.S. performance in implementing the 1994 nuclear agreement. (See ACT, June/July 1998.) Additionally, the launch may have been intended to demonstrate a new staging capability that North Korea could market to client-states like Pakistan and Iran, which are known to be interested in longer-range missiles. Staging is one of the key barriers preventing missile programs based on Scud technology from achieving greater ranges. Cited in CIA and Defense Department reports as a key proliferator of missile technology, North Korea has attended two rounds of bilateral missile talks with Washington aimed at ending Pyongyang's missile development and export programs.

Reminding Washington of the stakes involved in the missile issue could also have motivated the launch. On June 16 the KCNA announced Pyongyang's willingness to accept financial compensation for ending its missile exports. Two congressional staffers visiting North Korea at the end of August were reportedly told a figure of $500 million. The State Department announced on September 10 that a new round of bilateral missile talks will be held in New York on October 1.

The consequences for Asian security from the missile launch could be severe. On August 31, Japan announced that it was suspending its signature of the cost-sharing agreement reached July 28 for the light-water reactor project at the heart of the Agreed Framework. (See story.) Japan has committed itself to pay $1 billion of the $4.6 billion project. Under pressure from Washington and Seoul, Tokyo may relent on its suspension of cooperation in time for construction to begin in November, the Kyodo News Service reported on September 10.

South Korea and Japan may also use North Korea's action to justify new defense initiatives. The Mainichi Shimbun reported on September 7 that Japan's Defense Agency has begun looking into the development of information-collecting satellites for both civilian and military purposes. Tokyo has also expressed new interest in collaborating with the United States in studying the feasibility of developing ballistic missile defenses, a move sure to raise concern in China.

Within two weeks of the North Korean launch, on September 10, South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Hong Sun-yong said that he would call for revision of Seoul's 1979 agreement with the United States not to develop or deploy missiles with a range greater than 180 kilometers.

In the past, Seoul has argued that it should be allowed to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and build missiles capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload to a range of 300 kilometers, the regime's threshold of control. A State Department official said on September 15 that Washington would like Seoul to join the MTCR but "under the right circumstances"—namely ending its longer-range missile ambitions.

Washington's missile defense debate could also be affected by the North Korean launch. Robert Bell, special assistant to the president for national security affairs, acknowledged to reporters on September 1, "There's no question that the test of the Taepo Dong-1 will factor into the congressional debate on national missile defense." Bell went on to point out that "the degree of technical challenge going from an intermediate-range missile like the Taepo Dong-1 to an intercontinental-range system like the Taepo Dong-2 is really quite profound." Even with the test, Bell said, the administration remains confident there will be "at least three years' warning of an ICBM threat."

U.S. Test-Fires 'MIRACL' at Satellite Reigniting ASAT Weapons Debate

ON OCTOBER 17, the U.S. Army tested its ground based Mid Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL) against an orbiting U.S. satellite, yielding data which could have applications for antisatellite (ASAT) warfare. The designated emergency ASAT weapon, used in conjunction with the smaller Navy Sea Lite tracking beam, "illuminated" an Air Force satellite, raising concerns that such activity could encourage an international race to develop anti satellite systems and undercut 35 years of U.S. efforts to establish space as a sanctuary for most scientific, commercial and military activities.

To investigate the effects on the imaging satellite's sensors, the laser fired beams of varying durations (1 second and 10 seconds), simulating both an inadvertent lasing and a hostile attack on a satellite. On the third attempt at the White Sands Missile Range in two weeks, the Army called the effort only "a partial success" because the satellite "failed to download data during the lase," according to an October 21 Army information paper obtained by Inside Missile Defense.

Critics question whether any information on satellite vulnerability could be determined in a space test that could not be obtained from ground testing.

The test prompted Russia to issue an October 21 Foreign Ministry press release that said laser programs "may become a step toward creating an anti satellite potential." Though no treaty limits ASAT—U.S. Russian attempts to draw up an ASAT treaty in the late 1970s failed—space nations have exercised restraint in development and deployment of systems that could threaten satellite functions that are considered vital to intelligence collection and high tech warfare as well as commercial communications.

Critics suspect that the test sought to demonstrate an offensive capability, as opposed to just testing satellite vulnerability. Aside from a Russian ground launched coorbital ASAT—dormant since 1982—no countries possess ASAT systems and, according to John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists, "No other country, with the possible exception of Russia, has a laser that could conceivably damage our satellites."

It has been long standing U.S. policy to keep space an open realm, with the exceptions of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty ban on weapons of mass destruction in orbit and the 1972 ABM Treaty prohibition on space based ballistic missile interceptors, including lasers. These ABM limits were extended to theater missile defense systems as well in clarifying amendments signed this year. (See ACT, September 1997.) Current U.S. policy, which reflects U.S. space command's operational requirements for an ASAT, clearly contradicts the goal of maintaining space as a sanctuary.


Congressional Involvement

A Democratic Congress, concerned about the costly and provocative nature of ASAT activities, passed an amendment to the fiscal year 1990 defense authorization bill which specifically prohibited test firing MIRACL at a satellite in space. In 1995, a Republican dominated Congress, interested in sustaining the laser project and exploring its ASAT and ABM potential, failed to renew the five year prohibition.

Prior to Secretary of Defense William Cohen's October 2 approval of the MIRACL test, some Congressional leaders, including Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (MS), the ranking Democrat on the House National Security Committee, Ron Dellums (CA) and John Spratt, (SC) ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee called for its postponement. In a September 26 letter to President Bill Clinton they said, "We are deeply troubled that a test of a ground based laser system with such obvious ASAT warfare capabilities would proceed ahead of any debate or deliberate policy development." Senator Tom Harkin (D IA) also expressed his opposition to the MIRACL test in a September 25 letter to Clinton and said, "Demonstration of a developing ASAT capability would seriously harm our nation's international arms control interests by potentially encouraging such development by other countries. The United States should not start an unnecessary and expensive ASAT arms race."

The Defense Department has scaled back the MIRACL project since the 1980s Strategic Defense Initiative, ("Star Wars") and has spent only about $25 million per year for the last three years toward developing the MIRACL laser at the $800 million high energy laser facility. Though the scope of the MIRACL program is classified, the Army says it supports a variety of research and development programs, including subsonic and supersonic missile engagements and tests of the effects of turbulence on high energy laser beams. Additional MIRACL tests against satellites are not scheduled.


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