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As the United States attempts to convince North Korea to cancel a planned launch of an ICBM that is supposed to put a satellite in orbit, several Far East nations are making preparations to intercept the missile if it flies over their air space and divert air traffic from its expected flight path.
Japan, South Korea, Philippines, and Indonesia are taking steps to protect themselves from the unpredictable actions of the North Koreans, as well as the possibility that the unsophisticated design and poorly built missile might veer off course and cause damage if it crashes in their territory. Pressure on North Korea to cancel the launch has been intensifying in the last 48 hours as China and Russia — two of North Korea’s few friends in the world — have indicated their opposition to the launch. And if tensions weren’t high enough, South Korea intelligence is reporting that the North is readying another test of a nuclear weapon — a tremendously provocative action that, taken in context with the launch of the ICBM, sends an unmistakable signal that North Korea is approaching the point that it can deliver its nuclear weapons thousands of miles from its homeland.
The US has already suspended a recent agreement to supply North Korea with 240,000 metric tons of food and is threatening a complete cut-off if the missile is launched. But some analysts believe that the North Korean military is calling the shots on the missile launch and opposed the food agreement made by the civilian government. Other observers believe that the North Korean government has calculated that it is more important to boost the image of their new leader, Kim Jong-Un, than bow to pressure from the US in order to feed its starving population.
The missile launch is supposed to take place any time between April 12-16, although a spokesman for the North Koreans says it is ready to fly now. Washington not only believes the launch will be “provocative,” but that it would be a direct threat to regional security.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed out after talks with the Japanese foreign minister that the launch would violate several UN Security Council resolutions. UN Ambassador Susan Rice warned that there was “no disagreement among members of the [security] council that this is a provocative act, and an act that the North Koreans should refrain from undertaking.” Both Rice and Clinton said that “appropriate action” would be taken at the UN if North Korea went through with its plans.
Japan and South Korea will have their anti-missile defenses on high alert and will attempt to shoot down the missile if it violates their air space. The projected path of the missile is over water but past launches by North Korea have not been accurate. In 1998, a long range missile fired from North Korea passed over Japanese territory eventually falling into the ocean. There have also been several failures of North Korean rockets, including several that have blown up on the pad or shortly after liftoff. Japan has deployed its interceptors from southernmost Okinawa to the capital Tokyo, as well as sending three Aegis class destroyers armed with anti-missile technology into the East China Sea area. Experts worry that if Japan or South Korea end up shooting down the missile, that the North would take some kind of retaliatory action that might ratchet up tensions in the region even more.
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