Thursday, August 15, 2013

They Can Tell From The Pixels

One of the cornerstones of North Korea's foreign policy, such as it is, is to threaten annihilation of their enemies with long-range missiles unless they're given what they want. For a long time, really right up to the death of Kim Jong-Il, that worked. However, the strategy doesn't seem to be working as well for Kim Jong-Un. A pattern of gaining concessions from the West only to go back on any promises made and then making more demands, repeated again and again, has just about exhausted Western patience, which caused a particularly tense standoff last year.

Part of the credibility of the threats comes from North Korea's existing arsenal and the ability to successfully fire it. And there's no question that there is at least some ability to get something done on that front, as they put a satellite into space last December and a launch can't be bluffed. But something you don't intend to launch can easily be bluffed. A Klingon bat'leth looks threatening as hell, but actually try to use one in a fight and you'll find rather quickly that it's ridiculously unwieldy. Which brings us to a report doubting the authenticity of at least some of the North Korean missile arsenal, in particular the missiles being used in parades displaying the nation's military might.  Among what they and others have noticed:

*Varying placements of assorted parts from missile to missile, when theoretically all missiles in a given line ought to look identical.
*The same missiles being paraded every year, with different serial numbers painted on them.
*The appearance of "undulating skin", as opposed to the sleek, smooth skin needed for something trying to get airborne. Undulation would cause a missile to wobble in flight and knock itself off-course or even self-destruct.
*The fact that two types of missiles, the Hwasong-13 and the Musudan, have never actually been launched.
*A recently-announced line, the KN-08, being outed as just a bunch of Hwasong-13's.
*The sudden disappearance, perhaps purge, of Pak To-Ch'un, manager of North Korea's weapons and missile program. Earlier this year, North Korea backed down from threats to test a Musudan.
*The missiles not fitting the launchers they were carried on for the parade. (Launchers that, it is further noted, appear to be made in China.)

So that's a pretty substantial body of evidence. Again, there's little doubt that at least some of what North Korea has on hand is in fact real. They were able to put a satellite into space. So there's clearly something there. But it's considerably less something than is being advertised. The question is, how considerably, and how much extra leeway does this give the West.

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