Wednesday, July 5, 2006 at 12:56 PM

Space Shuttle Discovery blasts off…but so do North Korean missiles!

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Perhaps it was a good omen (or just a fortuitous opportunity to display the independent spirit of 1776 that could not be missed) that – after 2 aborted attempts – the Space Shuttle Discovery finally blasted off yesterday – on Independence Day.

As I understand it, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sent these astronauts on a critical mission to deliver supplies for building the International Space Station, which is half way complete. In fact, NASA has determined that it needs to fly at least 17 more missions over the next five years to finish construction. (Purportedly, the Shuttle has to be mothballed in 2010.) So fly they must, it seems, come what may….

However, I suspect some of you might wonder why I did not reserve this article for my “Good (news) Friday” feature. But frankly, where I thought man walking on the moon was a pretty cool trip, I have never fully understood the need to colonize space. Moreover, the utility of Shuttle missions is hardly validated by the fact that there was more interest yesterday in what pieces of foam Discovery may have left behind on earth than in the critical payload it was delivering into space. And now the astronauts will probably spend more time on tethered space walks to inspect and repair damage to the Shuttle than on scientific experiments.

Nonetheless, apropos these space experiments, I am not even sure what material benefits have been generated by the proclaimed “giant leap for mankind” into space. Indeed, am I the only one who wonders why astronauts need to go into space to perform weighty weightless experiments – like studying the effects of the space environment on bee glue and various seeds or observing the fluctuation and flow of gravity or examining killifish mating and egg laying? After all, similar experiments, including the more highly-purposed ones, can be performed in weightless chambers right here on earth.

Ironically, notwithstanding the drama of that giant leap for mankind on the moon, we seem to have derived more benefits, not from manned space experiments, but from satellites and telescopes that have been launched into space for commercial and recreational use. Indeed, the South Africans have now demonstrated that man can now explore further and more effectively into space using their South African Large Telescope (SALT) from its promontory on the ground than the Hubble telescope can provide from its orbit in space.

Therefore, given the cost of these Shuttle missions (in money, to say nothing of lives), it behooves us to wonder whether it’s worth launching them at all….

Apropos worthwhile launches: How ‘bout them North Korean missiles?

The North Koreans called America’s (and the world’s) bluff in daring fashion yesterday by synchronizing their launch of several missiles, including the dreaded long-range Taepodong, with the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery. And they fired them off despite warnings of dire consequences from world leaders, including President Bush who warned that launching them would be “provocative and unacceptable”.

Now they have. And to add insult to their impertinence, the North Koreans launched an additional missile today (“the day after”) – as world leaders try to see their way clear to a face-saving response after this humiliating poke in the eye.

But in this game of nuclear chicken, the U.S. has already blinked. After all, Bush has been so cowered by insurgents in Iraq that he’s now mobilizing a coalition of the willing to retaliate with diplomatic sanctions. But everyone knows that the North Koreans have become completely inured to sanctions. Indeed, they seem to relish their pariah status as the most sanctioned, inscrutable and isolated nation in the world today.

It seems appropriate to suggest that North Korean President Kim Jong-Il is the little tail wagging the big-dog Bush – given the specious revisionist rhetoric coming out of Washington today – about how the missiles posed no threat because they all fell into the Sea of Japan. I, for one, am mindful that Bush dared Kim to fire them at all. Moreover, many nuclear experts indicated that merely launching the missiles would constitute success for the North Koreans because it would allow them to gather data necessary to perfect future launches. In fact, this latter assessment prompted William Perry, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton Administration, to call for a preemptive strike on the missiles while they were still on their launch pads.

Alas, American diplomacy vis-à-vis nuclear proliferation reeks of hypocrisy and fecklessness. After all, Bush took military action against Saddam Hussein because he did not want the smoking gun (confirming that he possessed WMDs) to be a mushroom cloud over New York City. Yet he seems resigned to wait for Lil’ Kim to perfect his technology to create a mushroom cloud over Los Angeles before taking military action against this certifiable nut….

NOTE: If Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad needed any further assurance that he can defy the West and develop his “Islamic bomb” with impunity, Kim Jong-Il just provided it….

UPDATE (2:15 pm): Talk about impertinent, a cheeky reader emailed with this question on North Korea: “So, smart ass, what would you do?” (Because he emailed, instead of posting a blog comment, I shall respect his anonymity.)

Nevertheless, unlike Bush, I won’t let a little insult prevent me from rising to a worthy challenge. So, here’s what I would do:

It is well-established that neither diplomacy (Clinton-Albright initiative) nor UN Resolutions (sanctions) will deter North Korea’s temper tantrums.

Therefore, since Japan seems to be coming out of its 50-year military hibernation with a decidedly pro-American restiveness, I would make a very public show of helping them see that it’s vital to their national security to be armed, immediately, with nuclear weapons. (And we all know the Americans can spare a few nuclear bombs….)

Because no matter how crazy Kim Jong-Il pretends to be, I suspect he appreciates the difference between pla
ying with his missiles in the Sea of Japan and launching a preemptive strike on a foreign country – especially if that country possesses Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) capability. And once this deterrent is in place, I say let him play all he wants. But pay him no attention….

I would want this to be a very public overture because it would wipe that Cheshire Cat-grin right of the face of the Chinese – as they would then be forced to either defuse their little puppet Kim or waste an awful lot of the resources from their booming economy on a US-USSR-style arms race with Japan, which – like the Soviet Union – they are bound to lose….

There’s more to my Machiavellian strategy (e.g. putting a spine in Kim’s South Korean appeasers); but this should suffice for now.

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  1. Noel S July 6, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    You mean do what Premiere Nikita Kruschev tried to do in Cuba? What ever happened to Bushs glorious pre-emptive strategy? Didn’t we go to Iraq to prevent the proliferation of Nukes? This guys building them and not even trying to hide the fact that he’s building them. I say blast him!

  2. ALH ipinions July 6, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    That’s a fair analogy Noel.

    But since China does not have relative nuclear parity with the US (as was the case between the US and USSR), it cannot afford to play such a high-stakes chess game (e.g. by threatening to move nuke pawns to Venezuela). Indeed, if the Japanese are game, I think such a move by the US would checkmate the Chinese….

    “…blast him!”? Well, that would not be so much preemptive as it would be premature. But I appreciate your exasperation.

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