Sea Transportation: November 11, 2003


In September, the US Navy and several allied navies announced the launching of "Pacific Protector," a test of an interception program aimed at squeezing North Korean arms exports to countries hostile to the West. A State Department official said Australia, France and Japan would join in the operation in the Coral Sea off Australia. Forces participating in the exercise, the first of ten planned over the next year, were to practice intercepting ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction and related systems and materials. 

Participating in the first exercise in September were to be the Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54), a US Coast Guard boarding detachment with a technical observer, and a roll-on/roll-off ship of the Military Sealift Command, which will serve as a target for the exercise. 

Tensions over North Korea's nuclear program and threats to test nuclear weapons continue to rise. South Korea, its new government already having shown little backbone when dealing with Pyongyang, and facing the removal of US troops, is similarly nervous. 

This latest initiative to stop WMD proliferation comes after Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Spain and Germany agreed to take part in an plan called The Proliferation Security Initiative, another program to curb WMD exports. There have been no dramatic incidents at sea since a Spanish frigate caught the North Koreans sending Scud missiles to Yemen last year, a shipment under a false flag that was nevertheless allowed to proceed under the stated belief that Yemen is an ally in the US war on terrorism.

North Korea's latest sword-rattling follows the revelation in September that North Korea has developed a long-range missile capable of targeting all of Japan and the US territory of Guam. The new ballistic missile has a reported range of 3,000-4,000 kilometers, but has not yet deployed it. The missile's range would make it more powerful than the 2,500 kilometers Taepodong-1 missile, which can target all but the most far-flung of Japan's islands. In August, North Korea began talks with Iran aimed at an agreement to export the DPRK's Taepodong-2 long-range (2,100 mile +) ballistic missile to Iran, and even worse, to jointly develop nuclear warheads with Tehran. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency pulled its experts out of North Korea at Pyongyang's request in December. -- K.B. Sherman


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