No, it’s a launch pad, which North Korea will use to either (a) test its potential nuclear-weapon platform, (b) launch a satellite, or (c) deploy the millions of troops necessary to make the recent Red Dawn remake come to life. I mentioned this development earlier in the week, but at that time the satellite images weren’t part of the story. CNN’s report this morning makes it clear that Pyongyang wants to at least threaten to launch a missile, but oddly doesn’t do much analysis on why:
North Korea has moved another step closer to the unusual and provocative move of launching a long-range rocket in wintertime, according to an analysis of satellite images by a U.S. academic website.
Using commercial satellite imagery, the website 38 North says that trailers carrying the first two stages of one of the North’s Unha rockets can be seen near the main missile assembly building at the Sohae Satellite Launch Station on the country’s west coast.
The analysis published Thursday by 38 North, which is run by the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, follows the release of an image earlier this week by the satellite imagery company DigitalGlobe that showed increased activity at the launch station.
The developments shown in the images suggest North Korea could carry out a rocket launch as soon as “the latter half of the first week of December, weather permitting,” 38 North said.
There are two reasons why the Kim regime — if Kim Jong-un is really running things at all — might have chosen this odd timing for a provocation. First, winter is fast approaching, and the missile launch last April blew up a deal on food aid. The regime might be worried about a panic over food, and may see a missile-test threat as a good way to cut an aid deal from as much strength as North Korea can muster.
Second, South Korea will hold national elections on December 19th. The timing of the missile launch window seems pretty coincidental if not related to sending a message to voters south of the 38th Parallel. The regime may be attempting to flex its muscles as a way to get voters to elect a more pliable government, although if so, that effort may end up backfiring worse than … well, worse than North Korea missile tests in general, including the effort in April.
Either way, a threatened launch of missiles — especially long-range missiles — will put the peninsula back on the front burners of diplomats throughout the Pacific Rim. And that might be the real reason why attention-starved Pyongyang is making the threat.