Tuesday, June 20, 2006

North Korea

N. Korea's imminent 'launch'
Will NORAD go to DEFCON 1 in response?

Publishing Date: 19.06.06 16:19

The United States is reacting with unprecedented "grave concern" (a term reserved for extreme national security implications) over North Korea's possible launch of a new missile.

This isn't a mild rhetorical rebuke. This response is different.

It certainly appears that North Korea is threatening to "launch" (according to the new Pentagon term being used now instead of yesterday's "test" term) a missile over the U.S. like it did over Japan a few years ago. Obviously this is in retaliation for the U.S.'s recent numerous spy plane overflights.

North Korea has repeatedly said it was "entitled" to launch a pre-emptive nuke attack against America.
The U.S. government is making it clear to its allies in the region that such a missile launch will be viewed as a provocative act.

U.S. officials, while admitting they have limited missile defenses, have allowed that those defenses in place may be used to shoot down any incoming North Korean missile.

Officials have pointedly used the term "launch" rather than "test" to describe the North Korean preparations and said Pyongyang's intentions were not clear.

North Korea last tested a long range missile in 1998 when it fired a two-stage Taepodong missile over Japan, causing an international furor.

It declared a moratorium on flight tests of long range missiles in 1999 but said in 2005 that it would no longer keep to it.
As early as 2004, U.S. intelligence reported that North Korea may have a Taepodong-2 missile capable of reaching the United States with a nuclear-weapon sized payload ready for flight testing.

U.S. military intelligence believes a two-stage Taepodong-2 missile could reach the United States, while a three-stage Taepodong-2 could range the entire continental United States."

It is possible, officials acknowledge quietly, that a North Korean missile - even one intended to overfly the U.S. - could miss its target and land on U.S. territory. Or it is entirely possible that North Korea intends for such a missile to strike the U.S. - to test its resolve.

How would the U.S. respond to such an attack - intended or unintended?

Obviously, one of the responses could be a nuclear counterstrike.

"Launch on warning" is still official U.S. policy - meaning, when the U.S. detects incoming missiles, it fires nuclear missiles in response. NORAD would hit DEFCON 1 and likely launch the counterstrike without much hesitation since no one would know what kinf of payload is carried by the missile. Alternatively, the president may assess the situation as being within his "pre-emptive" policy and order a nuclear strike before North Korea can launch.

Defense readiness conditions (DEFCONs) describe progressive alert postures primarily for use between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders of unified commands.

AIR DEFENSE EMERGENCY: Air defense emergency is an emergency condition, declared by the Commander in Chief, North American Aerospace Defense Command. It indicates that attack upon the continental United States, Canada, or US installations in Greenland by hostile aircraft or missiles is considered probable, is imminent, or is taking place.

The U.S. has never gone to DEFCON 1 (at least publicly).

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. Strategic Air Command was placed on DEFCON 2 for the first time in history, while the rest of U.S. military commands (with the exception of the US Air Forces in Europe) went on DEFCON 3.

DEFCON 5 Normal peacetime readiness
DEFCON 4 Normal, increased intelligence and strengthened security measures
DEFCON 3 Increase in force readiness above normal readiness
DEFCON 2 Further Increase in force readiness, but less than maximum readiness
DEFCON 1 Maximum force readiness.

-- G2B contributor Robert Pfriender

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