North Korea's Ballistic Missile Program
CNS Resources on North Korea's Ballistic Missile Program
Overview of North Korea's Ballistic Missile Program
North Korea's ballistic missile program remains a source of significant concern to countries in Northeast Asia. For the past decade, North Korea has been both an active producer and seller of Scud-type ballistic missiles. North Korea's missile programs have raised the specter of conflict in Northeast Asia. North Korea now has the capability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including US military bases in both countries. Further, by selling complete missile systems, components, and missile technologies to Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Pakistan, North Korea has undermined regional stability in the Middle East and South Asia.
On 31 August 1998, North Korea test fired a multi-stage rocket. The prototype rocket was launched from the Hwadaegun Missile Test Facility. US intelligence agencies tracked the rocket's flight path over the Pacific. The first stage of the rocket fell into international waters roughly 300km east of the launch site. The rocket flew over the main Japanese island of Honshu and the second stage fell roughly 330km away from the Japanese port city of Hachinohe after flying for approximately 1,320km.
Initial media reports described the test as that of a two- stage intermediate-range Taepodong-1 ballistic missile. However, on 4 September 1998, the Korean Central News Agency clarified that North Korea had not tested a ballistic missile. Instead, it had launched a satellite into orbit via a multi-stage rocket. Later, the United States confirmed that North Korea had tried and failed to place a satellite in orbit. Apparently, the satellite broke into pieces seconds before reaching orbit. What was initially thought to be a two-stage Taepodong-1 missile with a range of 1,600km, is now believed to have had a solid fuel third stage with a potential range between 3,800km to 5,900km.
North Korea last tested its Nodong-1 ballistic missile in May 1993; then the missile was tested to a range of 500km only. While precise technical details on the Taepodong-1 launch are still unavailable, few analysts previously believed that North Korea could achieve a multi-staging capability in so short a period of time. More significantly, the technical breakthroughs achieved in the latest rocket launch, opens the possibility for North Korea to develop even longer-range missile systems, including missiles with an intercontinental range.
North Korea's latest test can be explained in several ways. It could be an attempt by the North to gain international attention as a means to secure further economic assistance for its faltering economy. In June 1998, North Korea admitted to developing ballistic missiles as a means to safeguard its security and generate hard currency. It also declared that missile exports would be halted only if the United States lifted the economic embargo and compensated North Korea ($500 million annually) for the loss of missile sales. Thus North Korea may have wanted to use the test as a bargaining point in its negotiations with the United States.
Furthermore, the rocket test came within weeks of reports that the North Korea was excavating a huge underground cavern at a site 25km north of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon. US intelligence sources allege that the underground cavern is designed to house a nuclear reactor or a nuclear-fuel reprocessing plant. Other analysts believe, however, that the excavation effort like the latest rocket launch may be intended to focus international attention on the troubled 1994 Agreed Framework. Under the agreement, North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear weapons program in return for two light-water reactors and 500,000 tons of heavy-fuel oil annually until the reactors came on-line. The 1994 agreement, however, is in trouble due to financing problems.