Missile madness stalks--Test
firings in India and North Korea make Tom Plate nervous
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Missiles generally make me very
edgy, even when they're aiming to allow a crew to conduct weightless
experiments that will cure cancer and eliminate deformed births, etc.,
etc. As the old joke goes, sometimes they aim for the moon, but somehow
fall on London!
Even when they have a
peace-loving communications-satellite on the tip of their nose, they
nonetheless remind me, inescapably -- in my anti-missile neurosis -- of
the potential for the total annihilation of mankind. And the notion of
Armageddon (that is, total global decimation) is, if you take the time
to think about it, rather unnerving.
And so the fact that so many
countries find it necessary to develop, test and maintain costly
ballistic-missiles cannot possibly be a positive commentary on the state
of the world. Consider what even India has just done. This is the
country of Gandhi and of non-violence which, in those lustrous garments,
make it one of our favorite countries, of course. By severe and obvious
contrast, North Korea is surely one of our least favorite. This is a
But this month they have --
independently, to be sure -- demonstrated at least one thing in common.
For whatever reasons, they are both crazy -- indeed, absolutely bonkers
-- for missiles.
It's bizarre. Here you have one
of the world's great democracies blasting missiles skywards at the very
time that the Congress of the United States, another of the world's
great democracies, is weighing whether to transfer U.S.
nuclear-energy-technology to India. Now that controversial, though
justifiable, policy move is made no easier to justify.
And then you have one of the
world's most repressive political systems test-lofting more than a half
dozen assorted missiles that -- in aggressive circumstances -- could
hurt a lot of people when effectively capped with weapons of mass
What awful timing, too! Japan,
which is North Korea's number-one historic enemy in Asia, is in the
process of selecting a successor to Junichiro Koizumi, the outgoing
prime minister. Now (I shall boldly predict) that successor will prove a
hardliner -- less and less likely to take a calm view of North Korea.
At the same time, the Bush
administration had been starting to melt at the edges from the period
waves of heat from its allies South Korea and from regionally
influential China to lighten up on its policy toward North Korea. Now
that argument -- post-missile tests -- will be ever harder to sell to
the hard-nosed Bushies.
India and North Korea would
also appear to have something else in common -- and this is also scary.
Neither of their missiles seems to shoot straight. They go up, but no
one seems to know where they will come down. Consider the recent facts
on the ground.
The Indians, for their part,
launch two missile shots of their own. One they describe as the
attempted lofting of a peace-loving communications satellite. It never
lofts: Whatever the reason, it blows up shortly after takeoff, taking
down with it the pricey Insat-4C satellite aboard.
And just the day before that
disaster, India puts up a test launch of its longest-range
nuclear-capable missile. Another figurative bomb: The Agni-III
surface-to-surface missile crashes into the Bay of Bengal.
These Indian tests in South
Asia occur as the world was trying to shake off the specter of the
flurry in East Asia, which only happened about a week before. Some of
the half dozen or so North Korean so-called "Scuds" seem to have tested
well enough, but are almost prehistoric missiles by the standards of
contemporary ballistic technology. Even so, at least one of them
appeared to have strayed so close to Russia (presumably unintended) that
it woke the Russians up and led to a serious official reprimand by their
Foreign Ministry. And, in the most important misfire, North Korea's
much-advertised, long-range Taepodong-2 missile blew up like a
dime-store firecracker not long after takeoff.
Maybe all this errant
missile-testing is finally getting on China's nerves, too. After all,
President Hu Jintao -- who rarely says anything even remotely
controversial in public -- recently conveyed to North Korean officials
the notion that they were not contributing in a positive manner to "the
stability of the peninsula."
Precisely because Hu is never going to be remembered by history as a man
with a special way with words, I would, if I were the North Koreans,
listen carefully this time. The next time, he may actually back up the
words with action. Miracles do happen.