Evil, But Dumb and Dumber

14 Apr

109940_600.jpg It might just come down to this fact: Iran and North Korea just don’t have the competence truly to be evil.

In fairness, it’s not just North Korea. The list of countries to have successfully launched a satellite into space is in the single digits. Still, North Korea’s got some specific disadvantages.

“Not only are they short on money, but also expertise. Developing this technology requires expertise across a range of fields, from fluid dynamics to metallurgy to materials science to flight dynamics,” says Brian Weeden, a former officer with the U.S. Air Force Space Command. “Countries that have been successful in this area all have extensive science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs to develop people with expertise in those fields.

“It seems North Korea is trying to shortcut this process by buying parts and technology from abroad,” Weeden continues, “and slapping them together instead of taking the time and investing the resources to develop the proper foundations.”

In particular, North Korea’s short-range missile technology is based on work the Soviets did with their own rockets. But that’s really difficult to scale up – as Pyongyang seems not to have figured out. “What they’ve tried to do is get a bigger rocket by strapping a bunch of Scuds and their variants together. It’s not as easy as you’d think,” says Victoria A. Samson, a rockets expert with the Secure World Foundation.

“They’re clearly having trouble building multiple-stage rockets, which is what you need either to put a satellite up in space, or to build an [intercontinental ballistic missile] that can range, oh, say, the United States,” Samson says. “Then you run into the problem of actually being able to aim the rocket, once you’ve launched it. I’ve always said that if North Korea ever got a rocket built that could technically reach the United States, they’d be lucky to hit any part of the continental Unites States, because they certainly wouldn’t be able to guide it to its final destination.”

Of course, all bets are off if the North Koreans decide a bespoke intercontinental ballistic missile is too hard and opt to go shopping. On the other hand, North Korea seems to like to export its missile technology. Documents revealed by WikiLeaks indicated that North Korea had passed on its missiles to Iran. That may not actually be true. But judging from North Korea’s unbroken streak of failed launches, if Pyongyang really is sending missiles to Iran, that’s a two-fer for Washington.

Fortunately, the Obama administration isn’t relying on the moron factor, but on bringing out the diplomatic big guns. In what loks just like the Six Party process, the P5+1 process with Iran will enter the China phase. Can Turkey, Russia, and Obama’s dream team defuse the crisis?

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