North Korea has pursued the development of nuclear weapons, and expansion of the range of its delivery vehicles in order to strengthen its military power and to gain a greater bargaining position in denuclearization talks with the United States. The Pyongyang government has used the missile test card whenever it feels talks are progressing unfavorably, or to gain new concessions from the U.S. In early August 1998, when the media and Congress showed great concern over a secret nuclear facility, North Korea fired a Taepodong-1 (Kwangmyungsung-1) missile which flew toward Japanese territory. Later, shortly after the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement and the U.S. Treasury’s freezing of North Korea’s bank accounts in the Macau based Banco Delta Asia, North Korea fired another set of missiles on America’s Independence Day in 2006 and staged a test of a nuclear device in October 2006. Because of these actions, North Korea was able to engage in bilateral talks with the U.S.
Now, after about two years, North Korea has again pulled out its missile test card. On March 12, North Korea notified the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization that it would launch an experimental communication satellite between April 4 and 8, 2009. If it really launches this rocket, it will be North Korea’s third test launch of a long-range missile. In this paper, I will first discuss briefly the background and goals of North Korea’s first missile test launch in 1998 and the second in 2006, examine North Korea’s missile capabilities and intentions, and explore whether the last window for diplomacy to prevent it is completely closed. Unfortunately, the prevailing opinion among experts and government officials seems to be that North Korea will undoubtedly launch this missile, and that no outside polcy can persuade Pyongyang to do otherwise.
North Korea has no apparent interest in reconciliation with the new [South Korean] government, or in showing any diplomatic flexibility at all.