Sunday, April 5, 2009

From Japan, premature exclamation

Warnings of a pending missile test launch by North Korea has put the hermit state's neighbors on edge. Which is why, according to the Japan Times, the government in Tokyo announced at midday Saturday that there had been a liftoff, but quickly retracted the announcement.

Even the Washington Post got in on the act, announcing in an article (since retracted) entitled "North Korea Defies U.S., Launches Powerful Rocket" that "North Korea 'is believed to have' launched" the Taepodong-2, with boilerplate reportage talking about "sanctions against the Pyongyang regime."

Japan had thought that Saturday, April 4, would be the most likely date in the April 4 to 8 window that Pyongyang had given. But Saturday came and went without any launch. A South Korean expert said "somewhat strong" winds and cloud cover may have prevented the launch.

It's easy to see why the Japanese government may be so jittery. Within seven minutes of liftoff, it's likely to be "hurtling over Japan's northern coast." Take a look at the LAT map above to see where a 1998 missile launch landed and look where this 2009 launch is supposed to end up. If I lived in northern Honshu, I wouldn't be too happy either.

I wonder, though, if the weather was the real reason the launch was a no-go on Saturday. Clear visibility would help a North Korea "with limited radar capabilities" to monitor the trajectory of whatever it is they're shooting off into space, but they may be deliberately using delay tactics to see what — if anything — Washington, Tokyo, or Seoul might do to get them to stop.

Just a guess.

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