Look At My Rocket

17 March 2022

Look At My Rocket

North Korea, India, Iran.

By Neil Tidmarsh

It was International Women’s Day last week, so it was fitting that it was not a good week for Strong Men around the world trying to big themselves up by shouting “Look at my huge rocket!” Perhaps feeling jealous or overshadowed by the truly obscene spectacle of an increasingly-frustrated Kremlin’s big-but-barely-functioning weapon ejaculating death all over its innocent neighbour, some of them appeared to grab their own deadly tools and aim for equally disgusting and perverted headlines. But with what success?

First, to North Korea. Four years ago, Pyongyang announced that it was freezing its nuclear weapons and long-range intercontinental ballistic missile programmes. It apparently closed down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site; foreign journalists were permitted to film the destruction of buildings and tunnel entrances leading into this underground facility.

But two months ago, Kim Yong-un ordered a review of that freeze and stepped up the launching and testing of short and medium-range missiles (just as it was becoming clear that Russia’s 1994 promise to recognise Ukraine’s independence in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons wasn’t worth the paper it was written on – coincidence?). And last week, a US think tank – the Middlebury Institute for International Studies – reported that Kim might be preparing to re-open the Punggye-ri nuclear test site; satellite photography has indicated signs of new building work there. At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported ‘construction activities’ at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear power plant and ‘ongoing indications of activities’ at the Kangson uranium enrichment complex and the Pyongsan uranium mine.

And then, last Friday, the Pentagon confirmed that North Korea has indeed started to test long range intercontinental ballistic missiles again. It announced that two very recent launch tests (which North Korea said were part of its ‘reconnaissance satellite program’) from the Sunan area were in fact preliminary tests of a new intercontinental ballistic missile system, probably the Hwasong-17 ICBM (designed to carry multiple warheads and have a range of 9000 miles, so western experts believe). The Pentagon described it as “a serious escalation” and Washington is expected to announce new sanctions.

The US also warned that a third test was imminent, and only days later, on Wednesday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in South Korea announced that “North Korea fired an unknown projectile from the Sunan area around 9.30 today”. Analysts in Japan and South Korea suspect that the unknown projectile was indeed the new ICBM.

And how did the test go?

Badly, it seems. “It is presumed that it failed immediately after launch” the Joint Chiefs of Staff added. It exploded “in mid-air while still in its booster phase and at an altitude of less than 20km”, according to other reports. The catastrophic failure apparently scattered debris and rocket fuel across the area, which isn’t far from Pyongyang.

Second, to India. Or rather, Pakistan, where an Indian missile landed last Wednesday. The weapon was apparently fired from Sirsa, in India’s north eastern Haryana state, and flew for three minutes to land in the Punjab city of Mian Chunnu, nearly 100 miles inside Pakistan. The two countries, both nuclear powers, have fought numerous wars and skirmishes in recent decades. Was World War III about to kick-off in the Sub-Continent while everyone was waiting for it to break out in Eastern Europe?

No. Not this time, at least. It was an accident, admitted the Indian defence minister. So sorry. “The incident is deeply regrettable” he said. He blamed the launch on “a technical malfunction” during “routine maintenance”.  Pakistan confirmed that the missile wasn’t armed.  There was “some damage to civilian property” but luckily “no loss of life” and no escalation of hostilities. Both countries have recently and uncharacteristically found common ground, of course, in refusing to condemn Russia’s equally reckless but infinitely more destructive use of armed force; perhaps it was this novel meeting of minds about Ukraine which put the dampers on a potential nuclear conflict, in this part of the world at least?

Finally, to Iran, which fired a dozen missiles over the border into the semi-autonomous Kurdish Region in Iraq last weekend (just as negotiations about Iran’s nuclear ambitions reached a critical point in Vienna – coincidence?). They hit the region’s capital city Arbil, landing near a new US consulate. Little damage and no injuries were reported. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed responsibility, saying that it was a revenge attack on Israel for an Israeli air-strike in Syria last week which killed two Iranian colonels. “The strategic centre of Zionist conspiracy and evil was targeted by the IRGC missiles” said Iran’s media. “Following the recent crimes of the fake Zionist regime, the strategic centre for conspiracy and evil of the Zionists was targeted by the powerful missiles of the mighty IRGC”.

The thing is, Arbil is getting on for 1000km away from Israel. And there is no known Israeli presence in Iraq’s Autonomous Kurdish Region.

A long-range intercontinental ballistic missile which blows up immediately after its test launch; a missile fired by accident from one nuclear power to another; a whole bunch of ballistic missiles landing 1000km off-target… If the Strong Men of North Korea, India and Iran were challenging the Strong Man of Russia for macho bragging rights this week, they certainly matched him for incompetence.

Cover page image: Mahmood Hosseini / Tasnim News Agency / Wikimedia / Creative Commons.
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