Today, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that intelligence officials have just spotted a train carrying what is believed to be North Korea’s longest-range missile, the Taepodong-2. A 2006 test of this missile ended in apparent failure, but technicians have undoubtedly corrected flaws and included upgrades since then. As one observer in Seoul mentioned, we could call the missile on the train “a Taepodong-3.”
The Taepodong-2 is thought to have a range of a little over 4,100 miles, which means it can reach Alaska. A 1998 Taepodong test ended with debris falling in that state or just off its coast. The version on the train undoubtedly has a much longer range. So if you live in Washington, Oregon, or California, now would be a good time to see if anyone will sell you insurance for scrap metal falling from the sky. A few years ago, some analysts thought a new version of the Taepodong could then hurl several hundred pounds up to 9,300 miles, enough to reach most of the rest of the United States. Of course, we won’t know how far North Korea’s missiles can fly until we witness a successful test.
Korea experts are saying Pyongyang is trying to get the attention of an Obama administration distracted by Gaza and the deepening global downturn. Perhaps that is what Kim Jong Il is doing. Yet his miserable regime is always improving its missiles, whether or not his relations are worsening with Washington, as they now are. Ari Fleischer, when he was President Bush’s spokesman, said: “Technology and time mean that regimes like North Korea will increasingly have the ability to strike at the United States.”
And it’s not just the regime in Pyongyang that we should worry about. Today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced his country put its first domestically produced satellite into orbit. At this moment, we do not know if the claim is accurate, but a U.S. defense official, speaking anonymously, confirmed that the Iranian missile did in fact reach space.